Luke Wilson - David Fox
Kate Beckinsale - Amy Fox
Frank Whaley - Mason
Ethan Embry - Mechanic
Year - 2007
Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4
What is it about motels that scare the crap out of people? Is it the dirty bedsheets? Is it the non-functioning toilet bowl after a really bad "Number 2"? Is it the ugly ass decor that makes you want to poke your eyes out? Or is it the fact that the shower scene from PSYCHO will forever be engraved in our fragile minds, making us wonder whether or not something like that will happen to us?
While I'm not afraid of motels, I do find them pretty creepy and unsettling. Who knows what could have went on in the same room you've rented in the past? If you go to the motel that Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale go to in VACANCY, you will know what happened since there are videotapes all over the place for your viewing pleasure. But unlike the characters in the film, I'm not scared from what I just watched. But at least I was entertained for 90 minutes.
David (Luke Wilson) and Amy Fox (Kate Beckinsale), a bickering couple on the verge of divorce, are lost on a California road after coming back from Amy's parent's anniversary party. Their car breaks down and they end up at a gas station where a weird mechanic (Ethan Embry) works. He fixes their car and gives them some directions, which the couple follow. However, they become lost again and the car engine dies. They end up walking to a hotel run by a strange fellow named Mason (Frank Whaley), where they relunctantly stay the night. Once they enter their room, the couple start to experience strange events - like banging on the doors and shadows running past curtains. David eventually finds a series of VHS tapes of so-called "snuff" films where people who had stayed in that very same room were horribly murdered. Realizing that they're next to die, the estranged couple try to work together in order to survive the night.
While it's not the best film I've ever seen in my life, VACANCY did its job for a 90 minute film. Short and to the point, the short running time helped VACANCY keep my interest. It was very realistic with some decent performances and a good amount of tension and suspense. The whole "snuff film" angle worked for me. It kept the film from going over-the-top by grounding the situation in reality while giving the film a creepy atmosphere. It wasn't exploited to the point where it would have made the whole experience silly, which I appreciated. I do wish it could have been pushed a little bit further to really give this film the horror kick that it needed, because it didn't really amount to much once David and Amy realized what was gonna happen. It was just a set-up device for the rest of the film and it should have been a bit more than that. I also liked that the characters were intelligent and didn't fall for the usual horror cliches that alot of horror films fall upon. David and Amy pretty much did everything a normal person in their situation would do and did not insult the audience one bit. Even the villain played by Frank Whaley was intelligent enough to take charge and pretty much be on the same level as his victims. It's nice sometimes to have real human beings do smart things in scary situations in a horror film every once in a while. Only for that, I was rooting for their survival.
My problem with this film is that the characters weren't developed enough for me, especially David and Amy. There were things that were acknowledged, like the death of their son and how it probably led to their wanting a divorce from each other to forget the memory of their son's death, but it didn't really go anywhere. I wish I could have learned a little bit both of them as they almost came off semi-unlikable until the end really. But at least they were real people and weren't stereotypes of real people. So there was some level of sympathy for both of them, but not enough for me to truly give a damn whether they survived or not. And we never really know why these snuff films actually take place. I guess it was a business move for Mason to keep his hotel running or something, but that could have been expanded a little bit more too. The last act was pretty much your standard slasher film, meaning it was predictable as hell. And the ending was a bit too clean for me. I was waiting for something to happen but it didn't and the film pretty much just ended as it began. I don't mind "happy" endings, but it was a bit too much. Made the film less memorable in my opinion.
Director Nimrod [did his parents hate him?] Antal did a very good job with VACANCY. I loved the small frame shots of Amy and David in pretty much every scene because it created a level of clustrophobia that really set a disturbing mood for the film. The fact that we get these shots of the couple being alone and close together creates a personal feeling with the audience because it's like we're with them during this entire situation. He also kept building tension until the derivative end got rid of all that, but at least the suspense was there for most of the film. And I have no idea who is DOP [Director of Photography] was, but the picture was absolutely beautiful and clear. I loved the dark lighting and the inventive shot compositions. In particular, the scene where the lights in the room start blinking off and on, and then you see one of the masked killers in the room right behind Beckinsale before disappearing when it goes dark again [reminded me of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN with Michael Myers appearing out of nowhere in the dark to scare the audience]. Just really smart filmmaking. I liked it alot.
The acting was okay. I have no idea what made Luke Wilson want to do a mainstream horror film, since he's more known for his smaller budgeted comedies. But he didn't do a bad job at all and played the everyman hero believably. He was smart, tough, determined, and willing to sacrifice himself for the wife he was about to divorce. Not an Oscar-worthy performance in any way, but it was a good one and I enjoyed the guy alot.
Kate Beckinsale was pretty much given a throwaway role as Wilson's wife. She didn't do much but act bitchy and look scared. She's not the greatest actress in the role but at least give her more to do, especially if she's one of the leads.
Frank Whaley was good again in the role of the creepy Mason. Whaley is almost unrecognizable with the moustache and the glasses, but he was okay. I found his moments in the last half of the film almost funny though because he kept screaming and cursing every other line. Just not much of a fleshed-out part to protray, sadly.
And Ethan Embry was again wasted in a film as a creepy mechanic who pretty much sets up the entire thing. We barely see the dude in the film which is sad because he's a real good actor when he's given a meatier role. For only four major characters in a film, none of them were really developed enough. Some people may not care about that, but I do.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE WATCHING THIS FILM
1. If a raccoon is on the road, swerve your car off of the road. Saving the life of one raccoon is worth the lives of you and every passenger in the car.
2. When your wife dreams about you strangling her, it's maybe time for a divorce. Don't wait too long or you might end up killing her like O.J. Simpson or Robert Blake. ALLEGEDLY.
3. The motel manager has trouble counting change for a dollar. To all you dropouts and idiots out there, there's a job waiting for you that's not prostitution or selling shoes.
4. The motel in VACANCY is too noisy and annoying for its own good. I'd rather stay at the Bates Motel. At least I'll get quiet service with a smile before Norman's "mother" kills me in the shower.
5. Watching videos of people getting killed isn't really a mood-getting for most people. I guess not every Honeymoon Suite is up to "snuff".
6. If you're being terrorized by a couple of maniacs and need to find help, let your wife do the distracting. Not only will you be able to reach for help to save your life, but maybe your wife will get killed and you'll be able to collect her life insurance. You can't lose!
7. Don't ever use a pay phone inside a phone booth. You'll never know when a bad driver will hit you with their car. Especially in California. Most likely it'll be Lindsay Lohan. Or Britney Spears. Or Nicole Richie. Or Paris Hilton. Or...
8. Escaping underground from psychos might lead you to encounter a bunch of rats. I thought this was VACANCY, not FEAR FACTOR!
9. Kate Beckinsale has trouble breathing in an underground cavern. And she was the star of two UNDERWORLD films? The irony...
10. Dangerous situations will bring estranged couples together. Like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in GIGLI. Or Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon in CRUEL INTENTIONS. Or Madonna and Sean Penn in SHANGHAI SURPRISE. Oh wait...
THE FINAL HOWL
VACANCY isn't a film you're gonna remember two weeks from now. But it will entertain you as you watch it. If you're looking for a gorefest, look somewhere else. But if you don't mind watching a tension-filed thriller for a short 90 minutes, then VACANCY isn't a bad rental.