Haunted Hotel: A Melodrama in Augmented Reality: well worth checking into

Guy Maddin’s first venture into the world of extended reality, this rewarding experience sees the mercurial Canadian artist explore themes of voyeurism, seduction and betrayal in a novel fashion.

17 October 2022

By Leigh Singer

Haunted Hotel: A Melodrama in Augmented Reality (2022)
Sight and Sound

The spectres of silent cinema, and the faded, oneiric glow of its black-and-white moving images, have long happily haunted Canadian multi-hyphenate Guy Maddin. The more dedicated of his many admirers will know that, alongside his lovingly retro-styled feature and short films, Maddin is an acclaimed installation artist. But even they might be spooked – in a good way – by his latest creation, Haunted Hotel: a multi-layered, three-dimensional ‘melodrama in augmented reality’ that juxtaposes his beloved antique aesthetic with wild bursts of more contemporary cut-out visuals and vivid blasts of colour.

Commissioned by the British Film Institute specifically for the 2022 London Film Festival, Haunted Hotel is Maddin’s first immersion into this practice and, at first glance, playful new technology feels ideally suited to this mercurial, archive-inspired artist. The exhibit comprises eight distinct visual scenes, all single frames, apart from one triptych. Approaching each armed with an iPad, the seemingly set tableaux shapeshift onscreen according to proximity and position, Maddin’s collages revealing multiple layers, images within or behind images, peepholes into the forbidden or forgotten.

Gaze at sunny, 1950s-style magazine advertising, and a prone figure suddenly drops into view; water unexpectedly flows behind a film noir-like jail cell portal; and where ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus spies on himself and his then-spouse Agnetha as they pose for the camera wearing nothing but tinfoil, if you manoeuvre your viewpoint around the side, you can just about see them from behind too, a privileged vantage point that peeping Björn simply doesn’t have. All the while, Magnus Fiennes’s eclectic soundtracks, which feature everything from brooding Angelo Badalamenti-esque disquiet to jaunty ragtime piano to sleek synth beats, encourage extended engagement, complementing each station’s augmented reality effect.

Motifs and notions of voyeurism, seduction and betrayal morph in and out of sight. Whether one recognises specific cut-outs – here, actor Fernando Rey; there, a Georges Méliès moon-face – isn’t really the point. And though Maddin claims that he’s implementing a full storyboard for a hypothetical movie, very loosely (“hyperbolically”, in his own words) inspired by Wilkie Collins’ 19th-century ghost-story novella The Haunted Hotel, figuring out an overarching narrative for the piece is neither straightforward nor necessarily desirable. A more rewarding approach (each visitation, even by the same viewer, is effectively a unique experience) may be to rummage through each of Maddin’s Haunted Hotel ‘rooms’ and make one’s own associations from the clues and connections laid out by his fertile imagination as he wholeheartedly embraces this novel way of working. Well worth checking in, and out.

► Haunted Hotel: A Melodrama in Augmented Reality is screening until 30 October as part of LFF Expanded at the 2022 London Film Festival.

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