Last week I talked about the Hitchcockian experience of Disturbia and the way that film used subtlety over sensationalism to create appropriate frights. So if you’re looking for something to follow it up with then submitted for your approval is Vacancy, a movie that uses Hollywood’s time-tested setting for fear in isolation: the hotel in the middle of nowhere. This is no Hostel or Turistas, where the graphic portrayal of torture is paramount. Instead, this movie does something different by making us give a damn about the intended victims.
The film centres on David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale), a married couple obviously in the last throws of their marriage, travelling home from her parents’ anniversary party along a lonely stretch of California back road. With car trouble they pull into a deserted hotel to wait for the morning and the local garage mechanic. While staying in their seedy hotel room, they discover a stack of video taped snuff films that were filmed in their very hotel room. David discovers that the room is stacked with hidden cameras and no sooner do they put two and two together, than the lights go out and three masked killers show up for their set call.
Vacancy is a marvel of execution, as it only involves one set and a handful of characters. It moves along briskly and gets you right into the story without a lot of expository dialogue or elaborate set-ups. Gore fans will be disappointed because there’s nary a splatter to be had; like Hitchcock proved decades ago, a fleeting image, a quick edit and appropriate sound effects can be as potent as the bloodiest special effects make-up. Another thankful bit, story-wise, is that David and Amy are portrayed as intelligent and proactive and not a senseless yuppie couple that huddles in the dark, waiting for slaughter while praying for salvation.
In such a small cast, performances are key and Wilson and Beckinsale perform admirably. Everyman Wilson is good as the put upon hero, but his nice guy demeanour betrays the sniping dialogue he has to share with Beckinsale in the film’s opening scenes. Beckinsale herself may be best know for she-Rambo parts in Underworld and Van Helsing, but in Vacancy she’s more the typical horror movie heroine; she’s definitely more Laurie Strode than Selene. But the bottom line is that these are people you care about, seeing them cut up would create an emotional reaction nowhere near the cheerful side of the colour wheel of feelings. Speaking of which, character actor Frank Whaley does an excellent job playing the hotel manager who, although he seems not quite right, is also not obviously the ringleader of the snuff circus.
Director Nimrod Antal, who first achieved success with the film Kontroll filmed in Eastern Europe, shows himself an able and creative filmmaker that can do so much with very little. Without elaborate set pieces and exotic effects, Antal wretches up the tension and delivers some genuine thrills. Hitchcock would be proud, and not just for the scary hotel setting. Shoot, even Norman Bates would have to admit that this is motel hell.