There will be people who shy away from St. Louis area filmmaker Trevor Juenger's latest film The Man in Motel 6 solely because they look at the 2-1/2 hour running time and cringe.
Those same people, of course, think nothing of devoting the same amount of time, or more, to the mindless dreck that has become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don't begrudge anyone actually enjoying the Marvel flicks, of course, though it saddens me that genuinely engaging, independently voiced cinema such as this indie/arthouse horror title will fly under the radar lucky to recoup expenses for what is undoubtedly the toilet paper budget for a Marvel flick.
Juenger has once again united with indie icon Bill Oberst Jr., an actor I see as sort of the John Hiatt of the indie/horror world because much like Hiatt his rhythms are so unique that it's easy to dismiss his actual greatness. However, also like the Americana/roots singer Hiatt anyone who actually knows the indie/experimental movie scene knows that Oberst Jr. is absolutely one of the best.
The Man in Room 6 circles around Carrie (Jackie Kelly), a socially troubled young woman trying to mend a broken relationship with her mother. After her grandfather passes away in a nursing home, Carrie finds herself drawn to the mysterious William (Oberst Jr.), a 106-year-old man whose possibly demented and possibly not tales enthrall Carrie. After a series of increasingly tall tales, William inexplicably disappears; Carrie is implicated in his murder.
From her opening moments, Jackie Kelly (Tennessee Gothic) is mesmerizing as the young Carrie. Kelly is a weird weaving together of vulnerability, smoldering mystery, and emotional intensity all into one. Kelly never really lets us see the fullness of Carrie's mystery and we're better off for that. I'll admit I chuckled when I first saw her and immediately thought of Little Nicky era Patricia Arquette, a thought that actually kind of worked the more Carrie's narrative unfolded.
As William, Oberst Jr. once again gives a unique, inspired performance finding life in and out of the prosthetics that age him but never completely mask him. It's clear that Oberst Jr. understands all the nooks and crannies of William's stories and while he's in the film for just under half its running time he's absolutely stunning throughout.
To say that The Man in Motel 6 has disparate pieces would likely be an understatement. It can be a difficult film to follow at times, though close observation easily indicates an interconnectedness. I hesitate to use the word sprawling, though it seems appropriate as Juenger has clearly devoted himself to this sprawling, entirely unique world that is both complex and yet remarkably simple in its manifestation. Among the other vital players, Blaire Winter (Black Easter) is particularly strong as Elizabeth as is Dalton Littrell as her younger brother, Avery. Retired Hall of Fame wrestler Steve Montana leaves a powerful impact as Elizabeth and Avery's alcoholic father, Chuck. The family abode next to a cemetery amps up the impact considerably.
There are others, of course, and Juenger has cast this ensemble quite well down to the smallest of roles.
Cinematography from the trio of Dylan Schnitker, Joe Tello, and Rexx Villotti is jarring in its naturalism as we move from intimacy to horror to mystery to so much more. The original music from Jeremy Flower and Carla Kihlstedt complements the film's rhythms the entire way.
A weird but quietly wonderful indie/arthouse horror project, The Man in Room 6 never lets us feel settled and yet also grabs us and never lets us go. While it would be easy to say the film's 2-1/2 hour running time is excessive, especially in the indie horror world, each piece is essential and it's hard to imagine the film without every scene firmly intact. In short, there's an exception to every rule and The Man in Room 6 is exactly the film that it needs to be.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic