This is a film that I hadn’t planned to write about, but it’s one of the few FrightFest titles this year that’s really stayed with me since watching it. On the surface, Do Not Disturb is a satirical romantic drama, combining sex, drugs and cannibalism; but underneath that sordid top layer, there is a bitterly astute exploration of just how unbalanced a relationship can become.
Chloe (Kimberly Laferriere) and Jack (Rogan Christopher) have “been together for ages” and finally, recently got married. Despite taking that definitive step, they’re clearly not having an easy time together. Hopefully, their Miami honeymoon might give them the chance they need to bond, or if not, maybe the drugs that (almost literally) land in their lap will. No? I don’t think so either. I also don’t think you need any more of the plot spelling out, but I’ll focus instead on the characters, and although they seem a little two-dimensional at first, they are not caricatures at all, but careful studies of potential spouses.
The film opens with Chloe relaxing in the taxi ride between the airport and the hotel, and she is clearly looking forward to a new life with her partner. Jack, in contrast, is visibly not bothered, and by the time they have spoken two sentences to each other, I wonder why Chloe married him at all. He’s not there to find the closeness they need but to embrace a vacation spirit and let go of everything. Chloe wants to go back to nursing school, and (and?) try for a baby again. Jack isn’t ready to grow up, and right now just wants to party. Chloe smiles only when she’s being polite, and Jack’s eyes light up when there’s the chance for a little adventure. Opposites attract, sure, but pairings like this make me wonder if they really ought to stick at it at all.
It seems like a dreary opening (to one who’s kind of been there), but there is a lovely scene when the pair take in the sunset together and voice a little hope. This is followed by another lovely moment, this time of female bonding between Chloe and fellow hotel guest Wendy (Janet Porter) just as their respective mates are returning with drinks. This other couple has been trying to make friends with Chloe and Jack since they first arrived and are united in relishing the adults-only nature of the hotel they have all chosen, giving another stark contrast
Maybe I can’t fit into this little perfect world that you want us to fit into. Why can’t we grow up and have fun?
Yes, it’s all a bit serious still, but the next morning starts with an apology and a near-empty beach, where they meet a junkie-ex-machina and the aforementioned eye-opening batch of peyote. Everything changes. Of course it does. Chloe and Jack are such different personalities that they naturally have opposing reasons for indulging, but the experience certainly binds them together in ways that are alternately intimate, needy, farcical, and revealing. It’s this latter two-thirds of the film that bring in the dark humour: the impact of the drugs shows Chloe just how unhealthy her mismatched relationship has become…without them, would she have noticed that it always was?
From this moment on, altered states and altered perceptions dictate the film’s atmosphere. Do Not Disturb is primarily set in lazy, sunny daylight until the drugs kick in, but it rapidly becomes claustrophobic nighttime, as our couple can’t face leaving the hotel room (apart from a brief escape to a nightclub), and lose track of time. Or lose time altogether.
The cinematography is used in a striking way to reinforce these time lapses, such as Chloe’s dive via a mirror into a swimming pool, and a shadow on the wall talking to her. Time and awareness come and go in waves, and writer-director John Ainslie leads us over those waves with ease. He shows us what gaslighting can feel like as we see Chloe (Jack too, at times) truly not believing her senses. One of those senses is taste: she bites Jack’s shoulder while giving him back her own version of the cold passion he usually delivers to her, and it takes her right out of herself. That taste leads to more and more, just like Chloe’s growing awareness of the state of her marriage.
Believe it or not, though, Do Not Disturb is also increasingly, sharply funny: the wit in the dialogue, the slapstick in the discarded limbs, the contrast between these utterly believable characters (astutely performed, by the way)…I’m not observing a marital car crash, but I’m laughing at a marriage so ludicrously wrecked that my own defunct marriage is a much lighter weight to drag behind me. Trouble Every Day this is not, despite some common elements.
The strap line of Do Not Disturb declares love to be all-consuming, but that’s not what this film tells me. When you can no longer deny how unhealthy a situation has become, resolving it is surely an all-consuming objective, with a much sharper focus than any love. Massive kudos to Ainslie for presenting this so powerfully. I’ll be on the lookout for more.