Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb (2022)

Do Not Disturb had its international première at FrightFest 2022

‘Do Not Disturb’ is a phrase associated with hotels – the words on a sign hung from the handle of a room’s door to indicate that those inside do not wish to be interrupted from their sleeping or fucking – or from whatever other activity, illicit or otherwise, in which they might be engaged. For in these zones of transit, these liminal spaces where people come and then leave, there is a thin line between public places (the lobbies and dining rooms and hallways and pool areas) and private lives. Do not disturb is also the diametric opposite of what a horror film hopes to achieve – but needless to say that the title of this feature from writer/director John Ainslie (The Sublet, 2015; writer of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, 2007) is antiphrastic, as Do Not Disturb delivers disturbing material aplenty behind its closed doors.

Chloe (Kimberly Laferriere) and Jack (Rogan Christopher) have flown in from Canada to Miami for a honeymoon in the sun – but far from being giddy, virginal newlyweds, they have been together for years, and their recent marriage seems more a desperate reassertion of commitment than a hopeful union. Chloe is still recovering emotionally from a miscarriage and feels her biological clock ticking away, while Jack is struggling to grow up, seeks constant refuge in drinking and drugs, and is barely earning enough to support himself let alone Chloe’s educational aspirations and the baby that she would like to have with him. In this cheap high-rise ‘adults only’ hotel, in a room without even an ocean view, the two certainly want to swim and dance, maybe even to have sex again after some recent problems – but they also need to thresh out their dreams and desires about a future that already seems tainted by the weight of their shared past. Chloe and Jack have psychological baggage to unpack – and where a bit of casual partying and swinging with older couple Wendy (Janet Porter) and Wayne (Christian McKenna) proves in no way helpful, Jack naturally gravitates towards the bags of peyote and the bright-red synthetic powder which a clearly deranged stranger – a veritable Florida man – left them on the beach before he vanished into the waves.

“Let’s just take the peyote,” Jack says to his sceptical wife. “You come together, that’s what this shit does, people take it to find themselves, come on, let’s do that together.” He is of course ignoring his own earlier advice that, “You’re not supposed to take it without the guidance of a shaman,” but nonetheless Chloe, who genuinely wants some sort of reconciliation with Jack, relents to his demands, and what starts as a little nibble of the psychoactive cactus soon becomes a much bigger bite, as their exploratory trip turns into a compulsive, out-of-control bender of several nights and days, mixed with that other substance which Jack identifies as 2C-B but which really could be anything. Do Not Disturb follows this couple on a confronting trip into newly awoken atavistic appetites satisfied in part by plenty of room service, and in part by other things. Punctuated by blackouts, this is an elliptical story, allowing the couple gradually to discover the mess left behind by their lost hours, and only slowly filling in the narrative gaps with flashbacks (a term that has always belonged as much to drug-taking experience as to the narratology of cinema). 

Like Paddy Breathneach’s Shrooms (2007), Ian Clark’s The Facility (2012) Albert Marini’s Summer Camp (2015), Jason William Lee’s The Evil In Us (2016), Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s Woodshock (2017), Bernhard Pucher’s Ravers (2018), Gaspar Noé’s Climax (2018) and Joe Begos’ Bliss (2019), this is a tale of ids and inner demons revealed by drugs gone wrong. Yet even as more and more genre wild cards are placed on the increasingly bloody hotel room table, Ainslie never forgets his starting point: a couple working through their problems, and a woman trying to decide whether she should check out as she checked in with her husband, or ditch him for good. For over this long, lost weekend, Chloe will indeed change, and learn that Jack has only limited capacity to provide what she really craves.

strap: In John Ainslie’s trippy hotel psychothriller, a drug-taking couple checks in, drops out, eats in and works through what they really want

© Anton Bitel