Described as a combination between commentary on immigration in the United States and body horror, Motel Acacia is an international horror movie now available on DVD/Blu-Ray and on digital.
Based on how the movie was marketed and its extremely low IMDb rating, I didn’t expect to last very long with Motel Acacia: it sounded like a very pandering and on the nose picture, where the social commentary was implemented just to hide bad filmmaking. Was I right? Is this movie as bad as it sounds?
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – Motel Acacia (2019)
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Motel Acacia – story and politics
Written and directed by Bradley Liew, a 28-year-old Malaysian-born and Philippines-based filmmaker, Motel Acacia is set in America as seen from abroad: a scary place where immigrants aren’t just considered as lesser citizens, but they end up as sacrificial victims in motels placed on the boarder. In this scenario, JC (Filipino actor JC Santos) is to take over the family business, which involves running an ominous bunker-like facility where foreigners hide out en route to Canada. The customers, treated like human cargo, pay loads of money in exchange for food, lodging and fake papers. However, the real goal of JC and his family is very different from what it seems… and it involves a demonic tree that needs to be fed human flesh.
As I said before on this website, I appreciate when horror movies become a mean to speak of current issues, whether these are related to politics, religion or society. However, the themes of a movie should never overshadow how technically well-made and unsettling a horror picture should be. In this respect, there are two different routes that are equally valid: you can make commentary integral to the premise of the film (like in The People Under the Stairs, Get Out and The Platform) or you can assess different themes in a subtle and enigmatic way (like in 1981 Possession, It Follows and The Lighthouse).
Body horror: feeding upon immigrants
Motel Acacia is a bit lost in the middle of these two ways: sometimes the commentary about immigration is very on-the-nose and blatant, with elements such as re-elected President Roberts, a generic white politician whose motto is “We are great again!”. Other times, though, the movie is way more subtle in its parallels between politics and body horror elements.
In fact, this movie does a good job at combining its messages with the horror aspects, which come mostly from convincing practical effects that are quite impactful without ever being too distasteful or gratuitous. Part of the reasons why Motel Acacia manages to be eerie and unsettling is the good production values combined with formulaic but effective set design. As a fan of body horror, this film certainly delivers in that department.
International actors and Asian/European horror feel
Despite most of the film being spoken in English, all the actors come from different countries, which enhances the realism given what the story is about. At the same time, though, the performances suffer from it quite a bit: unfortunately, some of the actors struggled to deliver their lines in English, making their performances either too wooden or excessively over-the-top.
Motel Acacia comes off as a very odd watching experience: not just because of where the actors are from, but also due to the weird combination of Asian influences (mainly Filipino and Malaysian horror) and Euro atmosphere, which is very surreal and not always sensical.
Despite its very low user score, Motel Acacia is nowhere near as bad as I was expecting it to be and as many people made it out to be. In fact, many aspects of this film (taken singularly) are very well-done and effective, whether they’re horror-related or linked to the politics of the movie.
Unfortunately, Motel Acacia lacks cohesion and consistency, resulting in a viewing experience that could feel quite jarring and confusing at times. Seeing that many horror fans truly hated this movie, I struggle recommending it quite a bit. However, I personally enjoyed most of it and the weirdness of it all made this flick oddly charming and fascinating to me.
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