Why Resort Horror is the unexpected hot genre of summer 2021

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The white lotus, nine perfect strangers, and Old collectively capture how our Hot Vaxx Summer went from a promise of carefree joy to a reality of giddy anxiety.
Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos from HBO, Hulu and Universal Pictures

When life offers you a personalized drink, it’s best to assume it’s been mixed with drugs. This is one of the lessons that Nine Perfect Strangers and Old have in common: the Hulu series, which is about a group of people checking in at a fancy wellness spa, and the M. Night Shyamalan movie, which is about a group of people vacationing in a place chic getaway next to the beach that makes you old, start the same way. Their characters are on their way to a seaside resort to escape the pressures of their daily lives, and when they arrive they are greeted with fruity drinks that they are told have been tailored to their individual metabolic profiles or taste preferences. It’s a bespoke touch that’s meant to indicate premium service, but also manages to feel a little grim before it even reveals that every glass has been tampered with with experimental treatment.

To be expected and to have your needs anticipated before they are ever expressed aloud – that, we were assured, is luxury. Being treated as an object of study, on the other hand, is less appealing, even if it comes down to the same thing. Luxury can be its own narcotic, with or without added medication – a comparison The white lotus explicit when Armond (Murray Bartlett), the manager of the title’s posh hotel, compares guests to lotus eaters, those figures from Greek myth who only gorge themselves on the lethargic fruit of the trees on their island. Mike White’s recently concluded HBO series also opens with a sequence of arrivals, and while VIPs at the resort are greeted with necklaces and napkins rather than dosed libations, the way Armond describes the service they supply gives the impression that drugs might as well be involved: “getting whatever they want, but they don’t even know what they want, or what day it is, or where they are, or who we are, or what the hell is going on. “

As if by grand design, the summer of 2021 has repeatedly told us stories of high-end vacations gone wrong – sometimes really false, as in bodies falling apart in surprisingly gruesome ways, and other times simply false in the sense of a healing retreat becoming alarmingly sadistic, or slight murder. Call it the resort horror, a mini-genre for this weird season in which the vibrations failed to cooperate, unrecognized trauma prevented attempts at occasional fun, the weather was record breaking and the Delta variant slowly overshadowed any hope of a return to normal.

Concretely, these fictitious scenarios arose out of pandemic needs, with limited overall locations and distributions that could go straight from quarantine in a hotel bubble to facsimile filming in Byron Bay, Dominican Republic and in Maui. These are stories tailored to COVID security protocols, capable of leaving screen worlds underpopulated, an effect that works in favor of settings that are exclusive enclosures people have to shell out to get in – unless you do. be a member of the staff, at that point you are forced to try and blend in with the background anyway.

If the coronavirus exists in these fictional universes, it is not mentioned, other than Melissa McCarthy on social distancing in a scene from Nine Perfect Strangers. But it’s tempting to imagine, in all of these stories, that COVID is still raging outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of these luxury expanses, and that part of what gets paid is the privilege of pretending not, like if at any time things could go all right Mask of the Red Death 2021. They are undeniably convincing, but not particularly good (although The white lotus, with its opulent masochism, has an anointing of undeniable prestige). They capture one of the feelings of that moment, of how our Hot Vaxx Summer went from a promise of carefree joy to a reality of giddy anxiety, like a daiquiri that turns out to have been heavily tampered with with ketamine. Through each of them runs a discomfort that seems born from the suspicion that no one deserves to let go, not when things are still so bad for others, and not when the pleasure demands to put others who have not. no choice but to work at greater risk. .

Old is the only literal horror story of the three, with his vacationing family of four joining other guests on a day trip in which their lives begin to drift away from them. Corn Nine Perfect Strangers and The white lotus are also eclipsed by death from the start. In the first, Triquillum founder Masha, portrayed by Nicole Kidman as an unholy cross between Goop and Galadriel, exposes anonymous threats to her life that may or may not come from one of the new members of her exclusive program. The body being loaded on a plane departing from the latter clearly belongs to one of the characters that we then meet by flashback. All three have the appearance of glossy travel shows, but the soul of an Agatha Christie thriller and the effective characterizations of another do too – types rather than people, possessing an identity. wide and possibly a dark secret that comes out. Everyone in Old is defined by their profession, to the point that the character of Gael García Bernal draws a direct line, during a fight, between the tendency of his wife (Vicky Krieps) to dwell on the past and the fact that she works in a museum.

The characters in Nine Perfect Strangers and The white lotus are a bit more dimensional, as they’re meant to generate sympathy or sneers rather than just being there to die, but the motives come back anyway. Abbey Lee and Samara Weaving play selfie-loving selfie-looking bombshells with full lips and auras of despair in Old and Nine Perfect Strangers. Krieps’ character is reeling from a possible sign of cancer in Old, just as Steve Zahn is (in a somewhat less dignified but also less grotesque way) in The white lotus. There are couples on the verge of breaking up and reporters worrying about how their careers and relationships are shaping up, and everyone is ricocheting in their confined spaces like actors doing an exercise. Superficiality almost seems to be the goal, especially after spending so long learning to be wary of others and shared spaces. If part of the appeal here comes from the slight exoticism that has built up around the spectacle of strangers being forced to share up close, another part is seeing them being just as bad at relationships with each other as some. of us may feel like we have become.

They don’t really get along with viewers too, which is the ultimate freedom these three titles offer, and why they fall so easily: there’s very little need for. care. These productions allow us to enter potential sanctuaries on glossy paper without requiring us to relate to the participants, either because they are written in such a flowery way (Nine Perfect Strangers), or because they are just fodder of bodily horror (Old), or because they are exquisite monsters of law (The white lotus). There is simply no way to focus on the guests of an upscale vacation spot and make that framing neutral, not when the pandemic has highlighted the divide between businesses more than ever before. the people working in the departments that make something like a resort run, and the people who can afford those resorts – to afford the luxury that needs to be served.

These tales of tourist turmoil free us from real feelings of complicity, even in Mike White’s acidic island drama, which invites viewers to wallow in the subconscious horror of his guests while maintaining a comfortable distance from them. Whether accompanied by an attempt at class criticism or not, these titles are all marked with a sense that their characters deserve whatever comes their way, rather than all of us, even if the twist is that it doesn’t. there is ultimately no consequence to be had for those who can afford it. The drugged drink might be a twist, but there’s also a touch of whimsy to the idea, a reminder that there is no control over everything, even on a plush getaway that exactly promises that.


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