REVIEW: Mystery Spot (2020)

dir. Mel House

As every horror fan knows, anywhere that has rooms to rent is a place to beware: hotels, inns and holiday cabins will inevitably be haunted by ghosts of former residents, or function as hunting grounds for bloodthirsty killers. Motels are especially uncanny, liminal spaces – between indoors and outdoors, public and private. Located on roadsides, they are places of transition, never a destination in themselves. 

Mystery Spot focuses on three people who have found themselves stuck in one of these in-between places. Nathan (Graham Skipper) is a casting agent, constantly auditioning actors for a project that it seems will never actually be completed. Rachel (Lisa Wilcox), a photographer, is on a journey cross country, documenting local curiosities. Police officer Leon (Bobby Wilson II) spends his days outside the motel in his car, obsessively documenting the activities of the residents in a never-ending investigation. There are some strange occurrences happening at the motel too – the voices of people who aren’t there can be heard, and piles of dust appear inexplicably. These happenings are perhaps linked to the titular Mystery Spot, an area at the back of the motel where the laws of physics apparently don’t apply.

Each character has had difficulty or tragedy in their life, and seem for the moment stuck, remaining too long at a place meant to be a temporary stop. Despite feeling trapped in both physical place and by their own circumstances, they form connections with each other, and with Max (Lyle Kanouse), the affable motel owner (somewhat stuck himself after the death of his husband).  In one scene, Nathan and Rachel play out one of Nathan’s audition scenes, which leads to them beginning a tentative relationship. 

Strangely, the Mystery Spot of the title is somewhat underplayed, its apparent powers having some bearing but never feeling truly vital to the plot. The film is at its best instead when focusing solely on the lives of its characters, the supernatural elements remaining largely peripheral and sometimes playing like a distraction from – rather than an integral part of – the narrative. 

As such Mystery Spot is a touching, melancholy story with engaging human stories at its heart. It could even have worked perfectly well with the focus solely on these, without the supernatural elements, but even with these slightly superfluous parts it is a compelling tale of loneliness, loss and finding connection in unlikely places.


Melissa Cox

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