It is one thing to come up with a fairly decent idea. But it is another thing to make a good film out of that. This is where Netflix’s latest Turkish import, Do Not Disturb, stumbles. It does come up with a topic that is quite relevant. Many of us these days spend a large chunk of our digital lives watching Instagram reels about anything and everything. I myself have been guilty of this charge at times. Do Not Disturb particularly focuses on Instagram influencers, specifically one Peri, one of those motivational mumbo jumbos that you come across every now and then on the internet.
The film’s middle-aged lead, however, completely swears by what Peri says and lives his life following her “words” to the T. The film portrays this side of social media as a menace and essentially tells a story about how it affects human beings and their lives. It is not particularly original, but I do believe that an intriguing comedy laced with a social commentary angle could have been made, under deft hands. Unfortunately, though, seamlessly blending social commentary with comedy is not everyone’s cup of tea. And director Cem Yilmaz is no Jordan Peele either, no offense.
It’s not that the film doesn’t try. There is a lot of effort in Do Not Disturb, which can be felt by the viewers. In a story that spans about one night, a lot happens in the life of mild-mannered hotel manager Metin, and that too on his very first night at a new job. Fifty Something Metin is played by director Yilmaz himself. There is a specific sub-genre where a middle-aged person with a monotonous life does something “out of the box” to rediscover the meaning of life. It has particularly emerged over the last few years or so, thanks to Netflix, and many other OTT platforms are giving people more rein when it comes to telling various kinds of stories.
Do Not Disturb happens to fall into this category. Metin, who used to work on a fishing boat, was living without a job for two years during the pandemic, until he got appointed at the hotel, thanks to a glowing reference. This also makes it a “pandemic film”, which is also a distinguishable movie genre now. The COVID-19 is omnipresent in Do Not Disturb. Metin is someone who adheres to the basic rules, wears a mask, and is already vaccinated. There is a supporting character who hints at being an anti-vax, and while I thought the narrative was going to utilize that as a matter of conflict, the film doesn’t really go there. In fact, the more it progresses, the more the pandemic takes the backseat. The only reason it exists is probably because the film crew had to follow the protocols during production.
So anyway, there is not much of a story in Do Not Disturb. It is basically Metin coming across a variety of people during his night shift, all while so many unbelievable things keep happening, one after another. These supporting characters are one of the few good things in the film that actually work. There is this saxophone-playing eccentric professor Bahtiyar who is going through an existential crisis. Then we have this guy named Davut, who appears to be shady and clearly hiding from something; considering he refuses to show identification to Metin. Then there is Suhal, a young girl who works at the hotel and has a connection with Metin. The connection happens to be rather awkward, with both of their mothers having a conversation about potential matrimony. I liked the fact that the Metin character honestly confesses that a pretty young girl like Suhal is way out of his league, which is clearly a dig at many societies normalizing older men marrying much younger women through arrangement and not love. There is another character, Saney, a woman closer to Metin in terms of age who runs a pharmacy nearby and is also an alcoholic. The narrative tries to create a kind of romantic angle between Saney and Metin, which absolutely doesn’t work thanks to poor writing.
The writing of Do Not Disturb is quite terrible, which is one of the many reasons for this film turning out to be underwhelming. Despite having interesting characters, the film doesn’t try to properly develop them and give them meaningful story arcs. Bahtiyar’s struggle is still understandable, but not much context has been given to Davut, which is surprising considering the character commits a very pivotal act during the climax of the film. I also thought giving Saney that much screen time without any proper reason didn’t make any sense, especially when Suhal’s character had the potential to make a difference. I understand that it is a matter of the creative choice of the storyteller, which is Yilmaz, but I have got to say that most of those decisions didn’t quite sit right with me.
It is quite strange that, despite having a penchant for films where the characters do nothing but have conversations, Do Not Disturb fails to work for me. There is a lot of talk in the movie about mental health, loneliness, love, life, and whatnot. Unfortunately, though, all these supposedly “meaningful” conversations seem quite gimmicky, boring, and repetitive. There are times when the failure in writing can at least be fixed to an extent by evocative performances by the actors, but that also doesn’t happen here.
However, the two biggest issues with Do Not Disturb have to be the structure and lack of clarity. It is not exactly clear what film Yilmaz was trying to make. It could be a quirky (almost) single-location situational comedy thriller, and it could also be a whimsical satire that brushes with magic realism. There is nothing wrong with being abstract, but even for that, a certain kind of conviction is essential. It would be wrong of me if I didn’t mention the fact that the first half hour of Do Not Disturb is actually quite intriguing where it sets up the story and introduces the character. Unfortunately, though, it is all downhill from there, and by the time Metin breaks bad in the overlong, it turns into something unbearable, and you can’t wait for it to end.