Machinima usually refers to a sub-genre of filmmaking composed completely of video game footage chopped up and overdubbed to tell a cinematic story. Like hip-hop, it was a way to solve the problem how do I express myself when I don’t have any money? Hip hop built its legacy by repurposing old records; with machinima, it’s video game footage. Either way, you make something new out of something old.

Benjamin Nuel’s Hôtel, on the other hand, isn’t machinima, even though it sure looks like it. Everything in this film is original artwork created in a simple 3D program, even though it self-consciously parodies the video game format. Everyone in the film (except for a single, mysteriously pixelated chicken) is one of two military stock characters: soldier with face mask, or soldier with ski mask. This minimalist video-game-inspired twist creates a film that limits itself to the most basic and banal imagery while it explores deeper existential questions through oddly humorous situations.

The premise is pretty simple and mostly sophomoric: what do video game soldiers do with themselves when they’re in between missions? Well, they mostly hang out in a camp and find any number of ways to pass the time knowing they’ll eventually get sent on a new mission and probably die. The metaphor for our own pedestrian (and possibly pointless) existence isn’t hard to grasp, but Nuel’s unique take on our timeless philosophical dilemma makes for a refreshing examination. It’s somewhat on the same wavelength as David Rees’ Get Your War On, with less snark and more heady musings.

Hôtel centers itself around two of these basically indistinguishable soldiers and the aforementioned enigmatic chicken. The three of them witness their world fall apart- literally- as they try to foster the emotional connections we all starve for and often fail at achieving. Funny, odd, and sad, it’s safe to say Hôtel is like nothing you’ve ever seen, even if, in some ways, it travels on well-tread land.

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