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Review: ACACIA MOTEL (2019)

At the beginning of Acacia Motel, (Motel Acacia in its homeland), young Filipino JC (JC Santos, The Janitor) is summoned to the United States by his decidedly non-Filipino father (Jan Bijvoet, In Darkness, Bloody Marie). It’s time for him to learn the family business. JC believes that business is running a bunker-like motel for illegal immigrants on their way to Canada. The truth is a lot more sinister.

His father, (we never learn his name), has a deal with the government. One that pays him to dispose of the motel’s guests instead. To help him do that, he has a Kapre, a Filipino tree demon, to dispose of the men. However, JC is warned never to let a woman near it. You can probably guess why, and that it will happen.

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Acacia Motel starts the nastiness early. A shocked JC sees his father humiliates a new arrival, forcing him to strip and threatening to send him back out to freeze to death. This obviously isn’t the safe and luxurious accommodations they think they’re paying for along with new identities.

After he sees the creature devour its victim the horrified JC is simply told “That’s what we do here”. He’ll soon be a lot more horrified as his father’s partner Angeli (Agot Isidro) brings three more potential victims that he’s expected to help kill. Instead, all hell breaks loose.

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The initial scenes of the demon-killing people are reminiscent of George Barry’s Deathbed: The Bed That Eats. It absorbs and digests them as they lay there. The effects for this are simple but effective. However once the Kapre manages to impregnate a woman Acacia Motel becomes more traditional, and quite suspenseful, as the creature stalks its prey.

Director Bradley Liew and co-writer Bianca Balbuena have taken the Filipino diaspora and used it as the starting point for a film that’s both an effective horror story and a commentary on immigration, human smuggling and trafficking.

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It’s no coincidence that Angeli is a Filipina, helping to lure her own people into this trap. Or that both of them are shocked by JC’s refusal to go along with it. They’re every bit as evil as the government paying for the deaths. It’s one of several recent films from the Philippines such as The Entity and Mystery Of The Night that mix politics and horror.

Acacia Motel is available to stream and on DVD/Blu-ray via Gravitas Ventures.

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