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Overall Rating

Awesome: 12.9%
Worth A Look43.55%
Average: 24.19%
Pretty Bad: 16.13%
Total Crap: 3.23%

5 reviews, 32 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not Quite Up To Snuff"
2 stars

After all the hoopla and hype surrounding the release of “Grindhouse,” it is ironic to discover that the makers of the new thriller “Vacancy” actually do a better job of recreating the kind of low-budget junk-film fodder celebrated so extravagantly by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez and I am almost positive that they weren’t even trying to do so. Like the grimy trash films of old, it offers up the kind of highly exploitable basic premise (often cobbled together from earlier, more successful films) that makes for an especially punchy one-line description, a screenplay that is little more than a laundry line from which to hang the icky moments and an aura of seediness that is so palpable that you will want to scrub your hands thoroughly after watching it. Alas, like so many grindhouse titles of old, it doesn’t come close to living up to the promise of the luridly depraved ads (not to mention an on-line game in which you too can be slaughtered by a psycho if you lose) and even at a short 80 minutes, it wears out its welcome long before the not-so-Grand Guignol finale.

Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale star as David and Amy Fox, a couple who, in classic B-movie fashion, have unwisely decided to leave the comfort of the interstate and are now lost on a long and lonely road in the middle of the night. In quick order, we learn that they had a child who recently died, a marriage that is all but dead and, thanks to a hard swerve to avoid a raccoon in the middle of the road, a car engine that is dying. With nothing else to do and with no open garage in the area, they track back to the run-down and isolated Pinewood Motel and are presented with the honeymoon suite by Mason (Frank Whaley), the kind of guy who, to judge by his appearance and manner, was either at the very top or very bottom of his graduating class at the Norman Bates School of Motel Management.

Before long, David and Amy stumble upon several hidden video cameras in the walls and a stack of videotapes that were clearly shot in the same room that they are now occupying. Sadly, instead of the expected amateur porn, the tapes turn out to be snuff films that show previous guests being brutally attacked and slaughtered by a pair of masked psychos–the very same psychos who are now begin to pound on the doors and windows in an effort to get in. In terms of plot development, that is about all that “Vacancy” has to offer. From that point on, the terrified David and Amy struggle to fight off their attackers in what is essentially one long stalking sequence that punctuated only by the occasional arrival of an outsider–a trucker at one point and a cop at another–who may either be in on the plot or just simply innocent bystanders brought in to goose the body count since we can pretty much guess that neither Kate Beckinsale nor Luke Wilson are going to be checking out (in any sense of the word) before the final reel.

Although snuff films have never been proven to be anything more than an astonishingly resilient urban legend, the notion of people being brutally murdered solely for the purposes of entertainment is one that has cropped up now and again in films of varying quality and with varying points-of-view–masterpieces such as Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom,” David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” or Michael Haneke’s “Benny’s Video”and “Funny Games” have used the subject to thoughtfully explore and critique the idea of media-generated violence while gross-out trash like the infamous “Snuff” (a cheapo Manson Family ripoff that became notorious because of an ad campaign that suggested the patently fake scenes of carnage were actually real) and “Hostel” have been content to simply use the subject as a gimmick to bait jaded audiences looking for increasingly kinky kicks. I wouldn’t dream of revealing which approach “Vacancy” takes but it probably won’t be too hard to guess once I tell you that of all the list cast members in the end credits, I would say that at least half are billed as “Snuff Victim.” Considering that the film tells a story about people selling homicide as entertainment in a film that is being sold to audiences along those very same lines, you might think that “Vacancy” might have an intriguingly self-reflexive view of itself (as Haneke displayed in his unforgettable “Funny Games”) but the film is too busy throwing sweaty close-ups of people in agony at us to have much time for reflection–especially not the kind of reflection that might not look too kindly upon the very people who have paid to see it.

It is kind of a bummer that “Vacancy” is as essentially empty-headed as its title suggests because while it isn’t a very good movie by even the standards of sleazoid cinema, it does have a couple of virtues. Although fans of director Nimrod Antal’s previous film, the bizarro Hungarian film “Kontroll,” may despair at the thought of him working on a trashy potboiler like this, he does keep things humming along at a fairly rapid pace once he get through the opening half-hour of set-up. He is aided immeasurably by the work of cinematographer Andrzej Sekula, who takes what must have been an unenviable job for someone in his position–how to make a film appear visually interesting when your central location is a small and scuzzy motel room–and comes up with a look that is far better than the film probably deserves. (Actually, it may look too good for a film of this type–at times, it cries out for the low-tech look of old-school grindhouse cinema.) The central relationship between Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale is intriguing early on because they demonstrate a weird kind of anti-chemistry that suggest that they really and truly can’t stand each other. In fact, they are so convincing along these lines that when they wind up coming together again under the threat of imminent death, it just doesn’t quite ring true. (You keep waiting for one to cheerfully sell out the other to the killer auteurs in exchange for their own freedom.

These elements help “Vacancy” to a certain extent but not to the point where you should actually consider going out to see it–ironically, it is one of those movies that will probably play best as one of those things that you turn on in a hotel room just to have something on the television that you don’t have to pay close attention to as it unspools. Those not already predisposed to watching seamy, sleazy slasher films will find nothing here to alter your views of the genre as a whole. If you are predisposed to such things, it is okay for a bit but even the most ravenous gorehound is likely to find himself asking the kinds of questions one should not be asking in a film like this? Is it really a good idea for a gas station to offer a free lit sparkler with every visit? Even though we are supposed to understand that the location of the motel is way out in the middle on nowhere, hasn’t anyone told the psychos in charge that they might want to trade in their clunky old videotapes for those new-fangled DVDs that the kids are talking about, if only for the potential mirth of a serial killer commentary track? Finally, why is it that even though the films are supposed to be unbelievably graphic and gory–that is what the commercials are promising, after all–the tapes on display always seem to cut away from anything that would be too upsetting? Apparently, even snuff filmmakers are now finding themselves under the constraints of the MPAA–a notion more terrifying than anything on display in “Vacancy.”

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originally posted: 04/20/07 16:27:07
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User Comments

2/25/21 morris campbell tense suspense thriller 4 stars
8/12/20 Jack Sommersby Scary, nerve-jangling stuff. A disturbingly effective good time. 4 stars
8/29/19 danR 3.5stars. Villain starts good/creepy, ends bit lame. RIVETING intro score and credits, btw. 4 stars
2/11/13 Quigley It put me to sleep. 2 stars
12/06/09 Distant Memory I saw it theatrically in 2007. Seem to remember thinking it was quite good 4 stars
1/16/09 gc Great 1st half, Wilson suprisingly good in this, A horror movie done right for a change 4 stars
1/10/09 Anonymous. not that scary but definitely interesting-i wasn't bored :] 4 stars
7/12/08 John Millheim crazy, snuff film. makes you want to stay away from motels 4 stars
6/03/08 ravenmad kinda sick, gross-sick. that snuff add-on was inhuman. Ick! i hated that most. 4 stars
3/31/08 beau i like the suspense and the pace but it isnt what i would call frightening as hell 3 stars
2/18/08 Jordan Good, and the films decision not to use gore works well. But, we have seen it all before! 3 stars
2/16/08 Jeremy Loved it. I feel wierd saying this, but is this Wilson's best acting to date? He rocked it 5 stars
1/15/08 Matt Dark, unexciting, B-Grade shlock. Even at 80 mins it drags on to nowhere. 2 stars
10/24/07 Ivana Mann Brilliant, pulse-pounding thriller.Twisted,scary,and undeniably creepy! 5 stars
9/17/07 Monday Morning Quite a bit worse than shitty. 1 stars
8/21/07 Roscoe Not a bad horror flick. 80 million times better than the shit storm known as "rest stop." 4 stars
8/19/07 action movie fan some good tension but the villians very very underdevolped-that weakens story 3 stars
8/11/07 tom very smart 4 stars
7/15/07 chris decent film worth seeing 4 stars
7/04/07 Heather At least Kate Beckinsale landed a slightly better role than CLICK (not saying much!) 3 stars
7/03/07 William Goss Taut thriller only stumbles in final minutes. BTW, nifty opening credits. 4 stars
7/02/07 Norman (Don't like seeing Kate Beckinsale "flip the bird") Kate Beckinsale wouold be better remembering who she is & not trying to be Ashley Judd. 3 stars
7/01/07 Lydia Helton No ending at all Caiphn! And why KB is hooked on B-movie slumming we'll never know. 3 stars
6/20/07 Lamb Creepy old fashioned horror. Some holes in the logic but still fun. 4 stars
6/14/07 Caiphn Very spooky, intense moments. No twist ending. (that's a good thing) 3 stars
5/24/07 ES Great suspense, disappointingly predictable ending 3 stars
5/23/07 malcolm better than i expected. tense 4 stars
5/03/07 AC BOWEN Total renter. Not scary at all. 2 stars
5/03/07 Ole Man Bourbon It was as though they ran out of money 2/3 through 2 stars
4/22/07 Brian Mckay The premise has more promise than the actual movie does. See it on DVD, if at all 3 stars
4/22/07 Ted Less subtle than Hitchcock, but satisfying nonetheless. 4 stars
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  20-Apr-2007 (R)
  DVD: 14-Aug-2007



Directed by
  Nimród Antal

Written by
  Mark L. Smith

  Luke Wilson
  Kate Beckinsale
  Frank Whaley
  Ethan Embry

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