Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Before checking into Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, check out these other films set entirely or predominately at hotels.
The hypnotic, divisive films of Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang remain largely unknown and unloved in the United States. (Fellow countryman Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who made Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, is a household name by comparison.) That could change, however, thanks to Netflix, which has made a handful of Ratanaruang’s features available to stream. Those seeking a representative introduction to his work could do no better than the 2007 relationship drama Ploy, about a married couple whose domestic discontent comes to a head during a sleepless trip abroad. Back in Bangkok for a funeral after several years in the States, restaurateur Wit (Pornwut Sarasin) and his ex-actress wife, Daeng (Lalita Panyopas), retreat to a hotel in the wee hours of the morning. The unspoken tension between them explodes into outright hostility when Wit meets a teenage waif (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, sporting an afro and a black eye) and invites her to crash in their rented room. From here, the lines separating fantasy and reality begin to blur, as flashes of an erotic, unrelated subplot—and hints of real danger lurking elsewhere in the building—transform the film into more than just another war of the roses.
Ploy plays coy with the identity of its eponymous character, who could represent not just the threat of infidelity, but also the phantom offspring these lovers lost or never had. (When Daeng insists that “they share this room together,” it’s easy to suspect that she’s talking about more than just the four walls around them.) Yet for Ratanaruang, concrete plot developments almost always break the spell; Ploy suffers when it moves from implicit unease to explicit menace. First and foremost, the film is a triumph of atmosphere: Rarely has jet lag—and crack-of-dawn insomnia—been so vividly evoked. Dread, too, seems to creep constantly into the proceedings, like the shafts of blinding sunlight the sleep-deprived Daeng fails to blot out. Along with the claustrophobic Invisible Waves (also available on Netflix), Ploy suggests that Ratanaruang may have a great, nerve-jangling psychological thriller in him yet. Give the guy his own Repulsion already; his career will heat up as fast as bloodstreams collectively chill.
Availability: Never released on Region 1 DVD or Blu-ray, Ploy is available only to stream on Netflix.