3 ½ Stars
To say Vacancy owes a bit to Alfred Hitchcock would be an immense understatement. From the groovy credits to the eerie Psycho-esque Motel to the cinematography, director Nimrod Antal apes the master in almost every scene. What sets him apart from other homages (and I’m using the term lightly), is that Antal somehow makes Vacancy feel fresh.
You Can Check In…
David (Luke Wilson) and Amy (Kate Beckinsale) are the unlucky couple whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. It’s just one of many bad things that have happened that night apparently, seeing that the couple loves to take nasty digs at each other via any possible opportunity.
Returning on foot to the gas station they stopped by earlier, the couple spot a hole-in-the-wall motel in back and decide to stick it out there until morning when they can have their car towed. This ain’t the Ritz either. Bugs on the floor, dirty walls and icky bed sheets give the room a nice skid row feel. However, someone has left behind an assortment of unlabelled VHS tapes for the couple’s entertainment. At first, Wilson watches the tapes in bewilderment. After sitting through a throng of people being tortured and killed, he notices that the room on the crude tapes looks awfully familiar. In fact, it looks exactly like the room our couple is staying in. Upon realizing that he’s watching a snuff film, things turn deadly.
… But You Can’t Check Out
The crux of Vacancy‘s success lies not in the story, which presents nothing new, but rather in the atmosphere. The hotel room looks so dirty you’ll want to take a shower afterwards, and the desolate location feels very isolated, leaving the potential victims with little hope. Where the film exceeded expectation is in the snuff tapes themselves. There’s a definite camcorder video feel to them and the brief clips come across as truly authentic, which upped the scare factor without resorting to overindulgent gore.
Wilson and Beckinsale are both good as the bickering couple. Prior to seeing Vacancy, I was only familiar with Wilson’s comedic films. His performance here was a treat and he proves that he’d make an interesting leading man. I’d like to see him cut his chops on more serious fare. Frank Whaley, who plays the hotel manager, is good but he’s a bit too mousy to come off as a truly intimidating character. Still, he jumped into the part with gusto and his mustache was a hoot!
The Bottom Line
Vacancy is a rarity in the cycle of modern Hollywood horror. It’s got fairly famous actors, but the film itself is small. So small, it feels a little like an old ‘70s TV movie with a bit of blood thrown in for effect. With current movie-going audiences hungrier for bigger, more violent fare, Vacancy was practically guaranteed to fail at the box office. Now with the DVD release, it will hopefully find the audience it so richly deserves.
This review originally appeared on About.com