***1/2 (out of 5)
April 20, 2007
Kate Beckinsale as AMY FOX
Luke Wilson as DAVID FOX
Frank Whaley as MASON
Ethan Embry as MECHANIC
Studio: Screen Gems
Directed by: Nimrod Antal
BY KEVIN CARR
When it comes to the new film “Vacancy,” I know what you’re thinking: Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale and snuff films… what can go wrong with that?
Surprisingly little, believe it or not.
Many things seemed to point to the possibility that “Vacancy” would be a real dud. First, it’s a springtime horror movie. These tend to blow hot and cold, often leaning towards lukewarm or less. Second, it wasn’t widely screened for critics. This is rarely a good sign, and on principle, I trash these movies before I see them. After all, if they won’t show them to critics, what are they trying to hide?
Still, I went to see “Vacancy,” going in with low expectations. To my utter shock and surprise, I really liked the film.
“Vacancy” is a basic serial killer thriller. It’s not loaded with original content, and the subject matter is admittedly grim. But for what it was, “Vacancy” was executed exceptionally well.
Like “Disturbia,” an homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” “Vacancy” takes a page from the master of suspense. This time, it’s stirring up memories of “Psycho,” offering all the things that can go wrong at an out-of-the-way motel.
Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale play David and Amy Fox, a couple whose marriage is on the outs. On the last road trip of their marriage, the weary travelers get off the interstate and end up at a rinky-dink motel in the middle of nowhere.
After dealing with the creepy desk clerk, they get to the room – the honeymoon suite, no less. However, when they start perusing an unmarked video collection of snuff porn, they realize these were real murders in this very room. The next hour sends the Foxes on a cat-and-mouse chase as they are hunted by the killers through the motel property.
What really got to me with “Vacancy” is that I’ve driven late at night many times, and I’ve stayed in places like the Pinewood Motel. I’ve never met the psychopathic manager wanting to chop up my family, but I’ve had some pretty weird experiences on the road. I guess I can empathize with the characters a little better, having been stuck at the far-away, creepy motel before.
One thing I really liked about the aforementioned “Disturbia” was that the movie took its time for the suspense rather than jumping into a splatterfest from frame one. “Vacancy” is very much the same. Yeah, it deals with murder, kidnapping and snuff films, but it has relatively little gore. If you can let yourself go and get past the leaps in the logic and other standard dumb moves by horror movie victims (like neglecting to take a gun from the supposed “dead” guy), it can be a fun ride.
Wilson and Beckinsale play the everyday common couple nicely. They seem very normal, and they’re sympathetic enough that I still rooted for them during the film (something I find myself doing less and less with modern horror movies). However, it’s Frank Whaley as the snuff film producer and motel manager who really steals the show.
This movie doesn’t excel in originality, but it gets an A for effort. There are worse ways to spend 80 minutes of your day, if you can stomach the subject matter.