From one crazy hotel to another, Nimrod Antal’s 2007 film Vacancy throws out any and all originality in favour of hackneyed and tired characters and a story that provides no real scares or surprises. It’s not that film is awful, it’s just nothing new.
When David (Luke Wilson) and Amy Fox’s (Kate Beckinsale) car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, they are forced to spend the night at the only motel around, with only the TV to entertain them… until they discover that the low-budget slasher videos they find in their room were all filmed in the very room they’re sitting in. With hidden cameras now aimed at them… trapping them in rooms, crawlspaces, underground tunnels… and filming their every move, David and Amy must struggle to get out alive before they end up the next victims on tape.
What begins (and ends) with heist movie-like credits and a very slow beginning, Vacancy goes for a cat-and-mouse game between the protagonists (despite the fact that ever since the film begins, they’re fighting each other making it difficult to relate or sympathise with them) and motel-owner antagonist (portrayed well but not-creepy-enough by Frank Whaley) as well as a few masked minions of Mason’s over a story that could have been ripe commentary on horror and slasher movies and the audiences that go to see them, but ends up being nothing more than your traditional horror movie.
The film reminded me a lot of Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers, a much more successful film that isn’t bogged down by half-baked characters or plot, for one thing, the protagonists in The Strangers, despite also being introduced after a fight, manage to garner sympathy, and despite the fact they’re teetering on the edge of breaking up, still love each other and make the cat-and-mouse game between them and The Strangers all the more effective, whereas Vacancy makes unlikeable protagonists face off against bad guys that just seem like they’re taken out of the “How To Write A Horror Movie” handbook.
The entire idea of the snuff films, which begins the cat-and-mouse game pretty much falls by the wayside as we go to focus on the two main characters trying not to end up on a snuff film of their own. Again, a lost opportunity. It almost feels like two different horror movies: a movie about a married couple going to get divorced finding a stash of videos showing patrons of the motel they’re staying in getting killed and: a movie about a married couple going to get divorced being chased around a motel by a Norman Bates-wannabe and his posse. This film also proves my theory that if a character calls the emergency line (911 in America), if a man answers it, it’s the bad guy, if a woman answers it, it’s a genuine emergency line receptionist who wants to help the main character(s).
In the end, it’s not an awful movie, it’s just not very good or groundbreaking. Luke Wilson should probably stick to comedies, and Kate Beckinsale has lost a certain something that made her shine in the Underworld films, but I blame that entirely on the script. Heist movie opening and closing titles tacked onto the start and end of an unoriginal film that’s worthy of a rental at best, unless you can find it cheaper than $15 make Vacancy barely earn its three skulls.
The traditional quiet sound mix with loud scares accompanies the film, providing an adequate 5.1 mix to go with the adequate movie. There’s really not much to say other than it was a clear and concise mix, but delved into the horror movie tradition of “everything in the soundtrack is quiet compared to the loud, booming scares we provide”. Three skulls.
Presented in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio, the film did look good. A wise decision to pump the film with warm colours makes the picture easy on the eye, with glowing yellows and orange walls and sickly coloured motel rooms making the film stand out above other, cold and sterile-looking horror movies, and for this I applaud it. I don’t remember noticing any film or digital artefacts, and the picture was crisp and clean and highly detailed. Four-and-a-half skulls.
Vacancy has only a few features, and not many of them are particularly worth watching. Two stars.
- The Alternate Opening Sequence is an ambitious opening shot setting up the events we will be watching in the film. I thought it was pretty cool, but who knows why the film-makers took it out?
- Checking In: The Cast and Crew of Vacancy is a by-the-books half-hour making-of with the cast and crew, especially producers, talking about the film as if it’s the second coming of horror movies making it sound a lot deeper than it actually is, and providing little insight into the actual making of the film.
- Mason’s Video Picks: Extended Snuff Films are exactly what the title suggests. Why these were put on here, God knows, but I didn’t bother watching more than a minute of it. Only for those who are off-the-wall obsessed with fake snuff movies, and let’s be honest: who is?
- Raccoon Encounter: Never Before Seen Deleted Scene is a scene that shouldn’t even have made it onto the disc. It’s stupid and one of the cheapest scared ever imaginable.
A film that tries to stand on its own two feet but constantly falls over unoriginal plotting and character work makes Vacancy a movie for a horror buff to watch on a rainy day. Not worth a full price, and only worth it on special should you like the film more than I do. Three skulls.