3 Stars
Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 85 minutes
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Cinema has certainly done a fantastic job demonstrating what not to do when you find yourself on a road trip. Never leave the main highway, no matter how fast you think that shortcut you found on a map will take you. David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) find themselves in such a predicament and they clearly have yet to learn this simple rule.

While on a road trip to an unknown location, they veer onto some back road off the interstate, in an attempt to avoid traffic from an accident. For hours they drive without seeing any real sign of life until their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. They abandon their vehicle and wander about the dark road for a while until they stumble upon a hotel that’s about as cheery as the Bates Motel. This hotel’s Norman Bates, Mason (Frank Whaley), provides our couple with a free upgrade to the delicious (I mean utterly disgusting) “Honeymoon Suite” for the night.

Here is where the true magic of “Vacancy” begins. Screenwriter Mark L. Smith wastes no time setting up the tone for the rest of the film. The hotel never pretends to be anything but what it is. Instead of disguising the hotel as a nice-place-to-be-even-though-it-looks-scary, all cards are laid out on the table from the get-go. As soon as the couple enters the lobby of the hotel, they are greeted by terrifying screams coming from behind a shut door. The minute they get in their room, David notices some VHS tapes on top of the television and decides to watch one. Why would a hotel dedicated to killing people while videotaping it decide to keep videos of said action in a room where new customers (victims of course) are put in?

Immediately David figures out the set of these videos are indeed the very hotel room he and his wife are staying in and that the actions contained within them are probably real. Before he can do anything about it, a couple of guys wearing masks show up at their door, ready for the evening’s kill. The couple must then spend the night fighting for their lives.

It’s rare to see Luke Wilson in such a serious role. He does an admirable job of ignoring his mostly comedic background but the real scene-stealer is Frank Whaley. Everything about his character – from the creepy mustache to the old man style glasses – is over the top in the best possible way. He would be absolutely perfect as a villain in a comic book adaptation in the near future.

Director Nimrod Antal’s previous film, “Kontroll” (2003), was a wholly original and captivating film about the underbelly of the Hungarian subway system. Given the potential for experimenting with a claustrophobic tone, it’s easy to understand why Antal would be attracted to “Vacancy.” And while the screenplay avoids some the traditional set-ups this genre has to offer, you can’t help but ponder how the film would have benefited from another draft or two of the screenplay. The film isn’t any longer than it needs to be (it’s only 80 minutes after all) but Smith lets the ending get the better of him and ends up being the film’s biggest flaw. It’s nothing as catastrophic as the last five minutes of Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” but it’s just as implausible. Still, “Vacancy” is a fun and violent ride, in the best possible guilty-pleasure sense of course, that suffers from only minor flaws. If only it ended 4 minutes sooner…

Posted on April 29, 2007 in Reviews by

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