Haunting and moody, this gently paced film gets under our skin by drawing us into three loosely connected stories that all hinge around deeply personal mysteries. It's somewhat stagey in its rather convenient plotting, but is beautifully made.
Five guests arrive at the snowy, isolated Cliff Edge Hotel, perched high above a foreboding beach: Elly (Peake) is struggling to come to terms with a past tragedy, Glen (Hilton) is a has-been rocker in need of inspiration, Philip and Sophie (Dempsie and Burley) are on a blind-date weekend, and Wendy (Yates) intends to end it all. Chambermaid Agata (Wendzikowska) takes care of them for the weekend, which doesn't go as any of them planned. This is mainly because each person's isolation is interrupted in ways that will change their lives.
Morley's dreamlike visual style is mesmerising, drawing us into the situations as she continually hints at something dark and rather frightening. The stark white landscape contrasts strikingly with the tatty, gloomy hotel interiors.
And even the most banal dialog, such as Philip and Sophie's awkward attempt to break the ice, is charged with a sense of eerie menace. Elly just wants to be left alone, so Glen's constant chatter is deeply annoying. Wendy is frustrated that Agata keeps interfering with her plan.
Each of these people is on an internal journey, and working out what's going on under the surface makes the film feel almost like a puzzle. Indeed, the characters themselves are looking for clues about each other. And Morley and the cast continually reveal details that catch us off guard. The interaction derails expectations as people start thawing out in ways that are warm or terrifying. This catches us as off guard as the characters, allowing the cast to give layered, unusually introspective performances.
That said, some of the scenes feel a bit talky and melodramatic, as these people lash out against their loneliness. The three strands feel like separate (but converging) one-act plays, each dealing with a different life-or-death issue. Although each person finds some catharsis through their encounters in the hotel, Morley is careful to never simplify things. This is a quietly insinuating film that holds our interest, even if the heightened drama makes it difficult to sympathise with anyone.