If we learn anything about David (Luke Wilson) and Amy Fox (Kate
Beckinsale), the heroes of Vacancy, it is that they have obviously
never watched a horror movie in their lives. If they had, they would
have known better than to check into the Pinewood Motel and we would be
left without a movie. The obvious signs are numerous and ominous.
There's the sound of a woman's blood-curdling screams coming from
behind the front desk when they check in, there's the mousy and
immediately suspicious man running the front desk (Frank Whaley) who
makes Norman Bates look like a well-adjusted model employee, and
there's the overall creepy vibe that the entire building itself gives
off. It's not until they discover the gruesome snuff films in their
motel room and the masked madmen start chasing them down that the two
finally start fearing for their lives. All the audience can do by that
point is sit back and silently say "told you so" to the characters.
When we first meet the unlucky couple, they are a constantly feuding husband and wife who are taking an ill-advised road trip together as kind of a last memory of their relationship before the divorce papers become final. Tensions are high, and the fact that their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere does not exactly help matters. This leads them to the "Motel from Hell" where they ignore the previously mentioned signs of trouble, and check into a scuzzy room where roaches scurry about and mysterious stains cover the bed sheets. They quickly catch on that there's much more to worry about when David discovers some videotapes of what appears to be former guests in the same room they're staying in being brutally beaten and murdered by masked men. Discovering that they are being videotaped at all times by numerous hidden cameras in the room, the couple try to escape, but find the outside area of the motel being patrolled by those mysterious men on the video who refuse to let them leave. It turns out this entire building is a trap set by some very deranged individuals who murder any guest unfortunate enough to check in, and videotape the results for their own twisted amusement.
With a running time that barely manages to hit 80 minutes, Vacancy is tightly edited and tightly paced. Not a second is wasted as the movie dives head-first into its genuinely creepy premise. There are a number of scenes that are bound the raise the tension of all but the most jaded of horror buffs. The brief glimpses that we see of the crudely made murder videos are terrifying without being exploitive, as the movie is wise not to linger too long on the images. The tension is built up even more when creepy and mysterious stuff starts happening. There's a very loud banging on the door of the motel room, and even on the walls from the room next door. The power starts flickering on and off at random, and it's obvious that someone or something is messing with them. It's when the mysterious men start popping up and chasing our heroes that the movie stops being frightening and intriguing, and simply turns into a generic slasher film. (Albeit a slasher film with better production and acting values than the norm.) The men lurk about in the dark just outside the motel room, pop up in front of windows suddenly, and really don't do a whole heck of a lot. It's a bit of a let down after such a generally creepy set up.
Filmmaker Nimrod Antal has a strong look and an obvious eye for creeping out his audience, but he seems to run out of ideas once his characters start running away. That doesn't mean he doesn't do what he can with the material. He makes the most of his limited setting, managing to find ways to avoid making the movie come across as being repetitive. He stages some sequences in a large variety of places around the motel, as well as a complex series of tunnels underneath the building that the villains use to get around. He is further aided by a game cast that help lift the material up a little bit from the B-grade junk it obviously is. Mainly known for his comedic work, Luke Wilson makes for a pretty decent everyman in the male lead. He seems genuinely unnerved as the realization of just how bad the situation is slowly dawns on him. As his wife, Kate Beckinsale is given slightly less to do until the final 10 minutes or so when she is forced to take control and fight for both of their survival. Until then, she mostly switches back and forth from being bitchy and irritable to being weepy and fearful. As the head of the whole shady motel operation, Frank Whaley is appropriately slimy, but much like the other villains, he is given very little to do once his role in the plot is revealed.
Vacancy has no notions of being anything but what it is - a somewhat enjoyable little piece of horror escapism that hits some good notes, but is far too slight and forgettable to leave much of an impression. It's not bad, but it is disappointing after a fairly strong opening half hour that hints at much more. The movie is brisk and well-made, at the very least. Still, I can't get over the notion that perhaps the film does it's job a bit too well at setting up an ominous atmosphere at the motel. I don't think anyone would be able to set foot there without expecting murderous masked madmen lurking about somewhere nearby. If you're trying to lure people into a death trap, I would suggest maybe using a somewhat more cheerful facade. Might attract more business. Couldn't hurt is all I'm saying.
Action / Horror / Mystery / Thriller
Action / Horror / Mystery / Thriller
David and Amy Fox find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere when their car breaks down. Luckily, they come across a motel with a TV to entertain them during their overnight stay. However, there's something very strange and familiar about the Grade-Z slasher movies that the motel broadcasts for its guests' enjoyment. They all appear to be filmed in the very same room they occupy! Realizing that they are trapped in their room with hidden cameras now aimed at them filming their every move, David and Amy desperately find a means of escape through locked doors, crawlspaces and underground tunnels before they too become the newest stars of the mystery filmmaker's next cult classic!
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November 10, 2012 at 04:19 AM