Reviewed on April 10th, 2010
By James (administrator) & filed in the Movie Reviews vault
"This is my... BOOMSTICK!"
Following a strained weekend at the in-laws, David (Luke Wilson) and Amy Fox (Kate Beckinsale) find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere after dark. Their relationship is on the rocks and their parting is imminent following the tragic death of their young son. The strain on their marriage and misplaced feelings of guilt have left them tearing at each other, one acerbic comment at a time.
With no other options they abandon their car and trek back to the gas station and motel they stopped at a couple of miles back. The gas station where the mechanic looked under the hood and told them they would make the 30 miles to the next town. They book a room for the night in the fleapit motel, populated only by the night manager. Nothing to do but wait until morning when hopefully they will get their car fixed.
The room is grimy and unwelcoming and to wind down a little after the stresses of the weekend David flicks on the TV. Static on every channel. But there is a stack of video tapes on top so he pops one in that apparently is some sort of horror or thriller. Out comes the tape and in goes the next. Again its scenes of people being horrifically murdered. So in goes the next tape. And then the penny drops – all of these films were shot in that very motel room! And that is the setup for Vacancy.
While the film will never go down on anyone’s best horror lists, that moment of realisation deserves to be acknowledged as one of the most disturbing moments in the genre.
Normally I have trouble with Kate Beckinsale’s rather clipped and uptight characters (that seem to come so easily to her you often wonder how deep she is having to dig to get into character) but she plays the part of a mother haunted by tragedy and guilt perfectly. It’s also refreshing to see her play a part where she isn’t in control and the terror and upset she portrays on screen go a long way to making me warm to her. Partnered by Luke Wilson (whom I prefer to Owen – acting clearly doesn’t come as easily to him but at least he doesn’t phone in every performance like his better known brother) the tension between the couple is nothing but believable. He clearly still loves her and doesn’t want what they have to end but there seems to be nothing he can do to change her mind and what was once loving and tender has become twisted and damaging as they keep picking at the scabs of their relationship.
What follows is their struggle to stay alive as the tension builds and the threat of murder rapidly becomes a very real possibility.
Before writing this review I watched the film again and the sad reality is it simply cannot reward you as much as it does on first viewing – knowing how a film ends is always a bit of a buzz killer! Throughout the film you are never sure if the couple will survive and suspect that ultimately their grisly demises will make its way onto the snuff tapes produced by the sickos playing this twisted game. From the initial revelation as to where the story is heading to the somewhat surprising ending the film keeps you on your toes and doesn’t need cheap scares, fake jumps, gore and implausible twists to keep your attention firmly on the screen.
As mentioned earlier Beckinsale plays her part perfectly but Wilson doesn’t fair quite as well. He certainly comes across as protective and caring and dependable and does a good job portraying a man who simply cannot fix the problem destroying his marriage but his range is a little limited and at times you wonder what the part might have been like in the hands of a more versatile actor. This however is a small criticism of a solid film that will have you rooting for the good guys.
The running time is brief but that is perhaps for the best as in truth there isn’t enough story to use up anymore film on. A couple of decisions made part way through the story hamstring the tale and dictate where it inevitably must head but if you take this purely on its own merits you should thoroughly enjoy it and may actually find yourself liking it more than expected.
I was occasionally reminded of The Strangers which tells a similar tale and also plays with the mortality of our heroes. I won’t say if Vacancy shares its dark ending but I am enjoying this recent trend of going against convention and sometimes robbing us of the comfortable ending we always crave. Curiously I think The Strangers is the better of the two (although it does run out of steam) and yet judging by the marks it has been given by the readers of this site I suspect my opinion may not be the popular one.
At times the direction lacks flair and the film is largely devoid of style which is a real shame as the opening credits are amongst the best I have seen. Sadly the quality of the film just isn’t on a par but is still an enjoyable 90 minutes and you may get an extra kick out of watching it with people who don’t know the premise. My second viewing however was accompanied by my cats who just didn’t get what the fuss was about. But then they thought that Citizen Kane was over-rated so what do they know?!
I haven’t seen the straight to DVD sequel and am in no rush to do so. The whole film’s strength rotates around this one relatively fresh proposal and to revisit this territory would be redundant. Why is it that horror generates more needless sequels than any other genre? Are our collective expectations so low that we are still grateful for anything that comes out. The frustrating thing is that horror is immensely popular and while it’s currently going through a renaissance it will always be seen as the bastard cousin of worthier films. Don’t hold your breath waiting for one of these flicks to scoop the Oscar for best picture…
7 out of 10
Director: Nimród Antal
Screenplay: Mark L. Smith
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Luke Wilson, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry
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