April 22, 2007

Movie Review: Vacancy

I have seen this little movie described as Psycho meets Saw, and that description is rather fitting. It is not entirely appropriate, but effectively describes the movie in a form of cinematic shorthand. I went into the movie with lowered expectations, although I cannot deny that I was excited over the possibility of a down and dirty little horror movie. When I walked out, I wondered why I had those lowered expectations. Vacancy turned out to be a gritty little film that succeeded at creating a foreboding atmosphere and delivering some old school thrills.

Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale star as David and Amy Fox. They are on their way home from her parents anniversary party, and while she sleeps, David decides to take a shortcut around interstate traffic. Now, like every veteran of horror movies knows, getting off the main road is never a good idea, and I mean never as you are sure to wind up in some off kilter backwater town, or hotel in the middle of nowhere, or an old farmhouse and these locations are sure to be populated with all manner of psychos, killers, and supernatural spooks. In this case it is a old motel populated only by the weird desk manager.

Before our couple can make it to the motel, they have to deal with each other and a broken down car. It becomes very clear early on that our dynamic duo are suffering troubles to their dynamics. Their marriage is in dire straits, they are snapping at each other, they are well into snarky mode, but the further along they go, the more they realize just what they mean to each other. Vacancy actually turns into a rather heartwarming tale of self discovery and love. Well, not really, but it does have an underlying heart which definitely helps you root for their survival giving you a people that you can genuinely care about.

Well, as the couple's frustrations mount over the backwoods route, and the more pressing breakdown of said vehicle, they find themselves checking into the lonely motel so they can wait for the return of the mechanic in the AM. As they muse about the griminess of the room, the discover some tapes, assuming they are porn, David tosses one in and discovers a movie featuring a brutal murder. Checking a few ot hers, he discovers more of the same, then it gets worse. The murders are in the room they are in! From this moment onward, the tension builds.

The commercials do not hold anything back, what you see is what you get. It is a gritty horror thriller that, once it gets going, doesn't let up. The Foxes are faced with thrill killers who get their jollies by videotaping the deed for future playback. It is a rather frightening prospect that is played to nice effect. It never leaves the realm of reality, no superhumans or supernatural influence, just the work of a sick mind.

Vacancy, as directed by Nimrod Antal, is that really delivers. There is a claustrophobic feel to the movie, everything is focused on David and Amy and there flight from a murderous duo wearing creepy masks. Antal takes his time setting up the location, allowing the tension to build in their situation, then when it hits the fan there is an explosive burst of energy. Jump scares that work, a setup that works, and performances that work all add up to a movie that made my heart race and never took that leap into genuine unbelievability. A world is created and its rules are followed. The world was created by the words of Mark L. Smith in his first produced script, it is tightly written and welcomes a new writer to the horror front, one who will be making his directorial debut, from his own work, later this year in Seance.

Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale are convincing as the troubled couple, sure there are a few lines of dialogue that are little clunky, but they clearly bought into their characters and made it work. It was also a little different seeing Beckinsale in a rather de-glammed role. Then there is Frank Whaley as the motel manager, talk about your weird character, he pulls it off admirably. All around good work from the cast.

Now, Vacancy doesn't really mine any new ground, but what it does is take those cliches of the horror film and make them feel fresh. I cannot say that I didn't know where this was going to go, the standard beats are all there, but knowing that did not diminish the shocking effect that they had on me. Nimrod Antale, welcome to Hollywood, I look forward to what you bring us next.



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