Vacancy (2007) / Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for brutal violence, terror, brief nudity and language
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry
Director: Nimrod Antal
Screenplay: Mark L. Smith
David (Wilson, Idiocracy) and Amy (Beckinsale, Click) are a bitterly bickering couple whose marriage is on the skids, detouring down a windy rural road for hours, completely lost. When car troubles force them off the road, they have little choice but to stay in a little-known motel that looks like it hasn't seen upkeep in decades. They plan on getting assistance in the morning but they have trouble sleeping at night, primarily because they begin to hear loud banging coming from the room adjacent to theirs. As the television is not getting any channels, the only thing left to watch are some VHS tapes left near the video player, each showing the disturbing death of various people at the hands of masked men. Most astonishing about the tapes is that they appear to have been made in this very room. Fearing that they may be the next victims in what appears to be a snuff film ring, David and Amy must work together to try to find a way out of their predicament in one piece.
This little shocker will most likely have viewers going for a while, from the first sight of the snuff film tapes to about the time that the couple finds a secret passage out of their room that may or may not be a legitimate means of escape. It doesn't always make a great deal of sense (a partially eaten apple happens to mysteriously appear in the bathroom, strange noises that aren't fully explained). I suppose it is likely that the makers of the snuff films just want to see these poor victims weirded out by the various stimuli for dramatic effect, finally killing them once their watchers are bored, but a lack of explanation is not exactly the best way to tell a story, especially when it is this simplistic.
At under 90 minutes, the pacing is brisk, and it doesn't languish too long before the the elements of mystery and suspense take over. In a way, it's almost too quick to give up the goods, as key plot points and revelations aren't always delivered for maximum impact. The discovery of a hidden passage in the bathroom could have played like a miraculous godsend, especially if it seems that all avenues of escape have been exhausted, but it plays out in the film like it's just another thing for the couple to try. Director Nimrod Antal (Kontroll) has a nice flair for creepy visuals and scrapes up some quality jolts, though; it's just that his film never really draws you into the plight of the characters in a completely convincing enough manner that we're truly scared. We watch them and want them to escape, but we never quite feel like we're in there with them.
Vacancy is certainly effective at delivering some suspenseful moments, and a healthy dose of intrigue, but, with the exception of a credibly distraught performance delivered by Beckinsale, the rest is the domain of schlocky B-movies. However, it is still pretty good B-movie material, and as long as you can accept the simple premise and the execution that walks a fine line between camp and straight-faced terror, it should keep you riveted. Looking back on the film after the fact, there is a bit of a hangover-inducing effect as you recall some of the weirder bits, but, as I always seem to say when implausibility takes over, the entertainment value will definitely be met for less-discriminating viewers. It's not Psycho, the greatest of the B-movie-style Hollywood productions, but it's a better, and more original homage to that style of filmmaking (deserted motel, crazy killers and all) than most have tried. It's cheap thrills, but it still thrills nonetheless.
©2007 Vince Leo