Review: ‘Vacancy’

Vacancy: the sum total of all the holes in this plot.

David Fox (Luke Wilson) and his wife Amy (Kate Beckinsale) take a shortcut down an old stretch of highway off the interstate to avoid traffic congestion. After their car’s engine starts making unusual noises, a breakdown forces the couple to rent a room at the Pinewood Motel from a weaselly manager named Mason (Frank Whaley). Finding the room unsavory, the couple turn to the room’s VCR and collection of unlabeled tapes to make a frightening discovery: all of the the movies are snuff films, and all of them appear to have been shot in the room they’re in.

Forget the promise of a smart, adult thriller about a couple trying to escape being the stars of a creepy snuff film. A better name for this film would probably be “Stretch,” because every scene seems to be an excuse to add to the film’s running time instead of adding to the story. Missing from the trailers (which easily cover half the story anyway before we see anything new) is a clich?© subplot about the couple’s not-so-happy dissolving marriage which dominates every interaction between the film’s leads but never goes anywhere. With the advantage of having two adult actors instead of a room full of screaming teens, the opportunity for a smart thriller is offered but ultimately ignored. By the time the credits roll, the only thought on everyone’s mind is, “That’s the end?”

Need examples? The trailer already tells us that they wind up at the motel, but instead of parking for the night, their car is allowed to drive on past the motel and breakdown a mile down the road, adding another pointless lover’s spat without adding anything interesting to the subject. Was there an affair? A lack of marital excitement? Driving a BMW indicates money didn’t seem to be an issue, but all of the relationship bits feel contrived and unsupported. Instead of starting at the motel, another ten minutes is wasted catching up to what we already know walking back. And why not present a happy, smart couple who bond together to MacGuyver their way out of a scary situation instead of fighting each other every step of the way?

Once the movie finally starts into unknown territory (i.e. something we haven’t seen in the trailers already), the two guys wearing masks ripped off from The Rise of Leslie Vernon stalk around like slasher clones from a Friday the 13th film. The film almost finds its stride here except that the “faceless stalkers” are constantly shown breaking character. By taking off their masks and otherwise acting as if nothing has ever gone awry terrorizing motel guests before, they come off as ridiculous. After the initial fright of their first appearance, there’s not enough mystery left to these guys to really be scary at all, just annoying and inconvenient. And let us not forget the mother of all cop outs, “My cell phone can’t get a signal!”

For terrorists-turned-filmmakers who have fortified their cash-sink motel into a snuff film studio, these villains seem to have no knowledge of their own territory, any backup plans, and appear to have just been plain lucky to have gotten away with it up to this point. How about a police department smart enough to trace an interrupted 911 call but too stupid to follow procedure and investigate an officer who doesn’t call back into dispatch after a couple of hours? The real Vacancy here is a lack of common sense and a complete waste of a cast and budget.

(a one skull recommendation out of four)

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