Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 30, 2020)
While most horror flicks feature young up-and-coming actors, 2007’s Vacancy offered a bit higher pedigree in terms of cast. No, Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale didn’t boast dynamic box office power then or now, but it did come as a surprise to find them in this sort of flick.
Vacancy introduces us to married couple David (Wilson) and Amy Fox (Beckinsale), both involved in a bad relationship strained by the recent death of their young son. During a long, unpleasant road trip, their car breaks down and they end up at a motel in the middle of nowhere.
While there, things go from crummy to worse. First they’re subjected to some stranger who bangs on their walls. When that seems to end, they try to unwind with the in-room videotapes, all of which show gruesome examples of torture.
If that’s not bad enough, matters get more upsetting when it becomes clear that the horrible tapes were shot in the same motel room – and they don’t appear to be fake. The rest of the flick follows their ordeal.
When I went into Vacancy, I expected an effort in the same vein as other torture-horror movies like Hostel and Turistas. From the start, however, director Nimrod Antal makes it clear he aspires to a different level of pretensions.
The opening credits boast a very obvious Hitchcock homage, and the scenes with the motel clerk (Frank Whaley) give off a patently obvious Psycho vibe.
Unfortunately, Vacancy owes much more of a debt to the modern movies I mentioned above than it does to Hitch. Granted, it doesn’t delight in gore to the same degree as its siblings. We get some graphic violence but not a lot, as the film keeps those elements to a reasonable minimum.
Otherwise, any resemblance to Hitchcock is skin deep and more of the filmmakers’ hopes than any reality. Hitch certainly wouldn’t have made a movie with so damned little real tension or drama, and I also expect he’d have created characters with more life to them.
Our extended introduction to David and Amy proves almost totally meaningless. While I know the film couldn’t just plop them in the terror without any exposition, I wish that the character development actually mattered.
It doesn’t. Yes, David and Amy inevitably grow to care about each other again as they deal with their nightmare, but so what? Why did they need to be emotionally separated at all?
Those elements don’t connect to the story or the characters in any significant way, so they could’ve been a happy couple at the start and the film would’ve worked just as well. This makes all of the info about their problems feel useless simply because those elements set up a pay-off that never comes.
It doesn’t help that for 95 percent of the movie, Amy comes across as a bitch, helpless or both. The film eventually allows her to redeem herself, but we don’t buy that change given her negativity up until that point. We need to invest in these characters, but it becomes tough to do so.
Ultimately, Vacancy never manages to become anything more than a mediocre horror flick. For all its Hitchcockian pretensions, it lacks anything to let it rise above the level of the usual pap. It’s no more tense, dramatic or involving than any of the others.