There's no better form of marriage therapy -- according to the torture-chic horror romp "Vacancy" -- than being stuck in a fleabag motel and threatened by psychotic killers. Better yet, make that mask-wearing sadists who not only want to terrify, abuse and kill you, but also sell videos of your painful demise. Whether a movie about snuff films is morally superior to a snuff film is a question for debate, but "Vacancy" should have no trouble making B.O. hay in a marketplace hungry for the next big outrage.

There’s no better form of marriage therapy — according to the torture-chic horror romp “Vacancy” — than being stuck in a fleabag motel and threatened by psychotic killers. Better yet, make that mask-wearing sadists who not only want to terrify, abuse and kill you, but also sell videos of your painful demise. Whether a movie about snuff films is morally superior to a snuff film is a question for debate, but “Vacancy” should have no trouble making B.O. hay in a marketplace hungry for the next big outrage.

Dubious ethical aspects aside, Nimrod Antal proves himself an able director who has made a highly cinematic movie. Shooter Andrzej Sekula’s compositionsare startling for a film of this ilk, the pace is appropriately brisk and everything clicks, at least visually. Antal may rely on closeups — and extreme closeups — more than anyone since Carl Dreyer, but what he creates is a sense that something is always looming just outside the strangulated frame. Whether it’s David Fox (Luke Wilson), his bitterly estranged wife Amy (Kate Beckinsale), or the crawlingly evil motel clerk Mason (Frank Whaley), neither they, nor viewers, ever seem to be alone.

Of course, the level of terror is proportional to the level of plausible threat, and here “Vacancy” falls a bit short. Checking into Mason’s repulsively squalid inn, David and Amy, whose relationship is essentially over, are immediately harassed by slamming on the walls and what sounds like pneumatic hammers on their door.

It soon becomes clear that David and Amy have almost nothing between them and the perpetrators of the sordid crimes they find themselves watching on tapes in the room’s VCR — which, they soon realize, were taped in that very same room. That the room itself would then provide sanctuary for so much of the movie not only strains belief; it’s laughable. And, of course, laughter doesn’t do much for the cause of terror.

At the risk of spoiling anything, “Vacancy,” is one strange movie. It ends so precipitously, one can only assume it’s a setup for the sequel (which, given all that happens, seems a mite unlikely).

The substantive issue to be taken with the pic, however, is its reliance on inexplicable cruelty and viciousness. Seldom has criminal violence been so unabashedly used for entertainment, in a story in which the criminals are perpetrating violence to be sold as entertainment. It’s doubtful the filmmakers were intending to deliver an oblique moral argument against their own movie, but they did so all the same.

Vacancy

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems presentation of a Hal Lieberman Co. production. Produced by Hal Lieberman. Executive producers, Glenn S. Gainor, Stacy Kolker Cramer, Brian Paschal. Directed by Nimrod Antal. Screenplay, Mark L. Smith.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Andrzej Sekula; editor, Armen Minasian; music, Paul Haslinger; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; art director, Chris Cornwell; set designers, Barbara Mesney, William V. Ryder, James E. Tocci; set decorator, Traci Kirshbaum; costume designer, Maya Lieberman; makeup, Michelle Buhler; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Edward J. White; supervising sound editor, Chic Ciccolini III; visual effects supervisor, Rocco Passionino; visual effects, Zoic Studios; stunt coordinator, Lance Gilbert; assistant director, Adam Druxman casting, David H. Rapaport, Lindsey Hayes Kroeger. Reviewed at Culver Stadium 12, Culver City, April 14, 2007. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

David Fox - Luke Wilson Amy Fox - Kate Beckinsale Mason - Frank Whaley Mechanic - Ethan Embry

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