Chariot (2022) poster

Chariot (2022)

Rating:


USA. 2022.

Crew

Director/Screenplay – Adam Sigal, Producers – Henry Penzi, Johnny Remo & Carol Anne Watts & Sasha Yelaun, Photography – Senda Bonnet, Music – Richard Patrick, Visual Effects – Dorian Cleavenger, Production Design – Scott Daniel. Production Company – Saban Films/Scarlett Pictures/SkipStone Pictures/Forest Road Company.

Cast

Thomas Mann (Harrison Hardy), Rosa Salazar (Maria Deschaines), John Malkovich (Dr. Karn), Scout Taylor-Compton (Lauren Reitz/Oliver), Shane West (Rory Calhoun), Vernon Davis (David Reece), Chris Mullinax (Old Man), Cassandra Gava (Vera)


Plot

Harrison Hardy consults the psychologist Dr Karn about a recurring dream. Afterwards, Harrison checks into a room at the rundown Lafayette Hotel. The hotel is inhabited by strange guests, including a man who floats through the lobby and Lauren, who has a split personality that manifests as an obnoxious British man. There Harrison meets and becomes involved with Maria Deschaines. However, Maria vanishes after she takes a new job. Harrison then begins to receive troubling calls from Maria pleading for help.


Chariot was the third film directed by Adam Sigal, who had previously made a couple of dramas, both non-genre works with When the Starlight Ends (2013) and Sargasso (2019), as well as a couple of others that appear to have not been released. He is also listed as a writer/producer on a couple of other films Daydreamer (2007) and A Voice in the Dark (2013). He has also executive produced Hell on the Border (2019), Monstrous (2022) and Poker Face (2022).

The hotel has a strange relationship with genre cinema. There are the haunted hotels of Stephen King in The Shining (1980) and 1408 (2007), and other works like Shelter in Place (2021). There is the large hotel as an echoing chamber for disturbed psychology in Barton Fink (1991). And then there are the hotels inhabited by strange characters in the anthology film Four Rooms (1995), The Million Dollar Hotel (2000) and Hotel Artemis (2018), or else of surreal happenings in works like Last Year at Marienbad (1961), the David Lynch tv series Hotel Room (1993), Hotel (2004), The Night (2020) and Hotel Poseidon (2021).

I was intrigued by the film’s premise – “A story about a doctor that oversees the process of reincarnation and a young man who becomes a glitch in the system when he encounters a woman he loved in a previous life” – which made Chariot sound like a science-fiction film. However, it becomes hard to reconcile this with the film’s tone of nonchalant deadpan.

It soon becomes apparent that the film falls into the last two categories of hotel films – the hotel of bizarre characters and the hotel of surrealistic happenings. Thomas Mann is soon surrounded by strange characters, including Vernon Davis as a zookeeper trying to get the last two animals of an endangered species to mate; Scout Taylor-Compton as a nice girl with a Split Personality that manifests as a randy, obnoxious middle-aged British man (where Taylor-Compton delivers possibly the worst fake British accent ever committed to film).

Thomas Mann and Rosa Salazar in Chariot (2022)
Thomas Mann and mystery girl Rosa Salazar
John Malkovich as psychologist Dr. Karn in Chariot (2022)
John Malkovich as psychologist Dr. Karn

The most appealing of these characters is Rosa Salazar as a free-spirited, pixie dream girl who seduces Thomas Mann. (I was watching Chariot around the same time as the amazing animated series Undone (2019-2) and came away with a major appreciation of Salazar as an actress). However, the film makes the cardinal mistake of creating such a vivacious and lively character and then just writing her out of the action in the latter half, leaving a noticeable absence.

It becomes apparent that what we are watching is a work of Surrealism rather than Science-Fiction. In the opening scenes, we get the bizarre image of the respected actor John Malkovich as Thomas Mann’s psychologist, where Malkovich plays the part with his hair partly dyed scarlet red (and in later scenes done up in a bow). In another scene, Thomas Mann is in the hotel’s lobby when a man casually floats past in the background. People turn up wearing insect masks like invaders in a 1950s SF film at one point and John Malkovich is revealed as wearing one at the end.

Why? Who knows – it just is, like much of the film. It is filled with bizarre randomnesses. John Malkovich goes to visit CEO Shane West and brings a person wearing a hood with him, which is then removed to reveal a double of West. What this means we have no clue as such is never referred to again. There is a sort of ending that rationalises what has happened in terms of Thomas Mann and Rosa Salazar being people who reconnect through multiple Reincarnations, but this fails to make much sense of the parade of oddball characters we meet in the hotel.


Trailer here


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