Movie Review: Writer/Director Walter Hochbrueckner’s “The Paradise Motel” Delivers a Thriller Worthy of a Night’s Stay

Every now and again I have the pleasure of watching a movie that hits all of the right emotional buttons, be they scary, funny or something in-between. Such a movie might not sashay anytime soon down the proverbial Oscar red carpet but hey, that’s alright: At the end of the day, they’re fun and semi-substantive, a great way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday night. Writer and director (and actor) Walter Hochbrueckner’s newest film The Paradise Motel neatly fits the bill of a fun thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the entirety of its runtime and, to borrow a line from The Bard – “’tis enough, ‘twill serve.”

Paradise Motel has a simple enough setup: An abused woman (the ever-radiant Dawna Lee Heising) makes tracks from her unhinged hubby (a role essayed by Hochbrueckner), trekking out to the west in best Johnny Appleseed-style and it isn’t too long during the movie’s runtime before she stumbles upon a little town called Paradise and two mysterious women with their own share of troubles.

 In the time-honored movie tradition of ironically-named towns located in the middle of nowhere (see Oliver Stone’s Superior, AZ in U-Turn), Paradise is anything but: There’s a killer – or killers – stalking the dusty streets with a passel of unexplained disappearances synched in tandem with those bloody goings-on. Hochbrueckner presents all of the above with the steady hand of a maestro, and he delicately unfolds layer after layer of surreal characters and places in a manner which makes David Lynch’s Twin Peaks look like a veritable piker.

 This being a thriller and a sidetracked road movie with a lot of love for Joan Crawford (trust us on that last point, Dear and Constant Reader), it’s not long before the stakes are ratcheted up masterfully. Heisling’s character is faced with having to confront her angry husband who is hot on her trail and various and sundry plot threads neatly interweave and tighten, turning this slow-burn into a taut and white-knuckle ‘what’s going to happen next?’ And though the proceedings get dark, the fun light and the wonky atmosphere never fully dissipate, marking The Paradise Motel as infinitely superior to scores of other movies which have plied similar territory.

 There’s a lot more to add here, and most of it has to do with the spot-on casting of The Paradise Motel: From the innate charms of the legendary Mel Novak, the hapless charm of Heising and the scene-stealing fun of the excellent Llenelle Gibson and Angel Princess, this reviewer would be hard-pressed to think of a better and more entertaining way to spend a lazy Saturday evening.

About Ryan Vandergriff

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