April 26, 2007


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Vacancy (R)
Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson try ever so hard to bring their actual acting abilities to the half-baked horror of Vacancy, a movie that might actually be a long ad for Quality Inn.

The central message of this movie can be boiled down thusly: “Don’t stay at an independently-owned motel.” The Days Inn, the Holiday Inn Expresses, the Motel 6s — yes, some are cleaner than others, some have better continental breakfasts or a wider choice of cable channels. But you can be pretty much assured that the hotel manager isn’t a mask-wearing killer who plots the death of his patrons. It’s much harder to get away with that sort of thing as an employee of a national chain, I guess, (multiple deaths get you bad reviews on all those travel Web sites). Stay on the interstate and patronize your well-known chains — for perpetuating this message, the makers of Vacancy should ask Comfort Inn and La Quinta for some kind kickback.

Vacancy also teaches us that nothing keeps an on-the-rocks married couple together like fear. Amy (Beckinsale) and David (Wilson) are driving back from a family gathering at Amy’s parent’s house. But Amy and David recently lost their young son and they’ve decided to grieve through the time-honored exercise of sniping at each other and then divorcing. Hence the decision to drive back to their house of pain in the middle of the night — at least they don’t have to pretend (as they did at her parents’ house) to like each other. In fact, David’s in such a hurry to end the façade that he takes an off-Interstate detour when an accident slows traffic.

Naturally, “off the freeway” leads to “lost” which leads to “funny sound in the engine” which leads to “helpful mechanic (Ethan Embry) at a desolate gas station” which leads to “broken down by the side of the road” which leads to “walking back to the garage” which leads to “hey, let’s just stay the night at that creepy old hotel.”

The lonely clerk gives them the honeymoon suite, which means, maybe, extra cockroaches and not just a TV but a TV with VCR. David, desperate to drown out Amy’s bitching, slips in one of the tapes left on top of the VCR. It’s people screaming and rolling around in their underwear while unsuccessfully trying to avoid being killed by masked men. He slips in the next tape — different people but same plot and, he notices, same room. It quickly occurs to him that the tapes are of the snuff film variety and that he and Amy are on location.

As the lights go out and the doors rattle, Amy and David quickly turn from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to a surprisingly adept team working to secure their escape.

Vacancy is not the worst movie of its kind I’ve ever seen. It falls somewhere in the middle, between the highs of The Descent and the lows of The Hills Have Eyes 2. Most of the nudity and brutal violence happens on the tapes, leaving most of the movie itself to the story of how two ordinary unhappily married people figure out how to outsmart a group of voyeuristic, murderous hicks. And, though the opening minutes cram in the backstory, we don’t dwell too much on that or the characters once the (mostly psychological) terrorizing begins. So, if you have to sit through Vacancy, it’s not going to be your worst day at the movies.

The movie’s problem, of course, is that there aren’t that many of us in the world who have to sit through Vacancy and, short of being required to see it for your job, I can’t think of another reason to see it. There is an overall OK-ness to the movie but nothing in either the performances or the story that makes Vacancy particularly worthy of your $9. C-

Rated R for brutal violence and terror, brief nudity and language. Directed by Nimrod Antal and written by Mark L. Smith, Vacancy is an hour and 20 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.