I had the opportunity to attend San Diego’s FANtastic Horror Film Festival on Friday, October 30, 2015, where I was able to see Director Kyrsten Henderson’s film “A Vacation Trip at a Treacherous Hotel.” Horror House Party extends sincere thanks to the FANtastic Horror Film Festival’s Directors, Beloved Party Guests JoAnn and Mike Thomas, for access to the Festival and its programming. (Read our complete review policy.)
Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk. A “spoiler-free” look at “A Vacation Trip at a Treacherous Hotel.” can be found in the news section.
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“A Vacation Trip at a Treacherous Hotel” by Kyrsten Henderson is a well-crafted short film blending animation and live action in a uniquely stylized vision. Henderson is an artist and film-maker at KJH Art Studios, when she is not busy studying animation at The Art Institute of Tennessee in Nashville.
Henderson has a unique style, and “Treacherous Hotel” displays the artist’s vision in an uncommon combination of innocence and optimism. She blends live-action with highly stylized animation, not looking for a seamless product, but celebrating the art’s arrival in the film as something fantastical.
“A Vacation Trip at a Treacherous Hotel” begins in a realistic fashion by following a family of four (father, mother, daughter, and son) as they plan to take a trip to their Aunt Jenny’s home. The daughter dreams of having an adventure in a grand, luxurious hotel, but the family’s budget will stretch only to staying with relatives. She gets her wish, however, when the family’s Buick breaks down on the way to Aunt Jenny’s.
This introductory, live-action portion of the film is its strongest, and Henderson’s skills shine. Her cinematography is impressive (“Treacherous Hotel” earned a Festival nomination for “Best Cinematography in a Short Film”), and the family’s rather mundane life is captured in carefully planned shots and well-written dialogue. Each of the actors portraying the family members delivers a fine performance (unfortunately, because Henderson’s film has no IMDb page, I am unable to credit their performances by name).
It is when the car breaks down that the film moves into other realms. An animated fog rolls across the countryside; when it passes, a fantastical (and animated) hotel has appeared. With no way to travel until the car is repaired, the parents finally give in to the daughter’s demands to investigate the building. They are greeted by the exotic owner of the hotel, who invites them to have dinner in the hotel’s magical dining room. After dinner, the daughter is shown to a room that speaks to the princess she is at heart. Her brother gets a room for a rock star; unfortunately, it has been previously established that he prefers soothing classical pieces to rock and roll. The film shows its roots as a student film here; the glamorous owner of the establishment looks (and sounds) a little too much like a younger student playing dress-up and not enough like an ageless, otherworldly beauty.
After a breakfast in the same dining room, the hotel proprietor advises the parents and their son of the rules: since they have eaten two meals at the hotel, she gets to keep them in the hotel forever. The daughter, however, has skipped breakfast. While the family was eating that all-important second meal, she was warned of the trap by Enza, a spirit in white, who explains that a fire demon named Meloda killed her father, the hotel’s original proprietor, and took over the hotel. Meloda soon appears and issues a challenge for a trial by fire. Before the family can be lost forever in the Treacherous Hotel, the evil is defeated, the family escapes, and the car starts. Aunt Jenny’s mundane residence never sounded so good.
The film reads (and, to a great extent, plays) like a traditional tale of the faerie, complete with a castle (ok. hotel), the potential for Sidhe (sometimes written as Seelie) and Unsidhe (Unseelie) conflict, and the rule that if one eats anything in faerie one risks being trapped there forever. Henderson’s choice, then, to make a patchwork quilt of ghosts, fire demons, and even Greek mythology was a bit troublesome, and I discussed this with her. Not surprisingly, the overlay of Greek mythology came from an instructor’s belief that the work needed to be more easily understood by an average (i.e., not genre) audience.
Henderson’s vision is unique while her artistry is compellingly optimistic. If she can stay true to her own voice, I expect great things from her.
Until you have an opportunity to see the unexpectedly delightful film “A Vacation Trip at a Treacherous Hotel,” you can follow it on Facebook, and catch a glimpse of it in this trailer:
If you love animation, and want to learn more about the great animators and their films, you need to add this volume to your library. “Who’s Who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film and Television’s Award-Winning and Legendary Animators” by Jeff Lenburg is the first book of its kind to chronicle the amazing careers of nearly 300 of animation’s most honored and recognized animator-directors and animator-producers from around the world. The book takes you from Max Fleischer (“Betty Boop” and “Popeye”) to Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), and from Ralph Bakshi (“Fritz the Cat”) to Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”). “Who’s Who in Animated Cartoons” features more than 70 never-before published photos and illustrations, including a full-color section of animation art, culled from private collections and many animators’ personal collections. This book is an invaluable guide to the people who have shaped cinematic and television animation for decades to come. –- McC
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