If you ever break down in the middle of nowhere, just sleep in your car. As soon as you take refuge in some backwoods motel, you're as good as dead. If movies have taught us nothing else, they've certainly taught us that.
Movies don’t have to be the most original offering of their genre to be good, especially where horror is concerned. Even if you’ve seen it all before, a few decent scares, good actors, and a director who keeps the pedal to the metal can turn even the most tired idea into something watchable. And that’s what you get with the motel-scare flick Vacancy, something watchable.
The well-worn premise puts married couple David (Luke Wilson) and Amy (Kate Beckinsale) on a long car trip. Off the interstate due to an accident, they get lost and develop convenient car trouble. Convenient for the sake of advancing the plot, not for them. Stranded by the side of a lonely road, they are forced to spend the night in a run-down motel operated by Mason (the always good but here somewhat underused Frank Whaley.)
Mason is creepy but rather than stay the hell away from him, they take up his offer of the “honeymoon suite.” With no television reception, David pops in a few unmarked videos that look like low-budget horror movies, with men and women being terrorized and stabbed by masked assailants. David quickly notices that the movies were shot in the very room he and Amy have been given by Mason and thus begins the heavy breathing action of avoiding the killers.
Although Vacancy incorporates a lot of what a thriller fan has seen in other movies dating back to Psycho and beyond, it does corner the market on serial killers as marriage therapy. David and Amy begin the movie tossing bitter comments back and forth due to a tragedy in their recent past, but that is all forgotten once the butcher knives come out. When not running, ducking, or crawling for their very lives, they renew their love for each other. Since there isn’t much else going on plot-wise, it’s better than nothing.
If you can get past the recycled paper-thin plot, though, the movie is good for some thrills and chills. It doesn’t include an overabundance of gore (in fact, there is very little actually bloodletting) but director Nimrod Antal cranks up the tension level as soon as David and Amy turn the key in their room and never really lets up for the next 45 minutes. Some additional exposition on what’s up with the bad guys or even getting a better sense of the personalities of David and Amy might draw the viewer in a bit more. But that might have lengthened the economical 85 minutes and stopped the heart pounding action.
Vacancy is not trying to break new ground. It’s just trying to scare you a little bit. While what is happening isn’t going to strike anyone as something new, it’s not boring or pretentious, and with horror these days, that’s saying something.
One of the key things critics remarked about Vacancy on its theatrical release was the relative star power of the two leads. Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale, while not DeNiro and Streep, seemed a step-up from the usual twenty-somethings that would take the lead in a movie like this. The disc, however, doesn’t want to make much of that and doesn’t use the stars to very good effect in the extras.
There is no commentary track using Wilson or Beckinsale or anyone else. The usual "every movie needs a commentary" comment can be inserted here. It’s really part and parcel with what is a very weak amount of extras. The relative paucity of items isn’t exactly surprising given the poor box office showing, but this is a movie that could find an audience on DVD and every little bit helps.
The primary extras are two deleted scenes. One is listed as an “alternate opening” but it’s really a scene that would have gone right before the actual opening, rather than replacing it. It shows the motel the morning after the David and Amy checked-in and the results of their battle with the killers. It then focuses on the bumper and license plate of their car. Since the actual movie starts with a tight shot of their license plate, the alternate opening clarifies why that shot was chosen, since it doesn’t really have any purpose otherwise. The other deleted scene is a comical scene from the beginning of the film with Wilson scared by a raccoon while taking a leak by the side of the road.
There is a standard behind-the-scenes featurette, which would have served as a promotional piece during the theatrical release. It features interviews with the stars, producer, director, and scenes from the film. It’s something you’ve seen a hundred times for a hundred movies and it doesn’t distinguish itself in any way. But, like the movie, it’s professional and well made and if you enjoy the movie then you get a little background.
The final extra is actually somewhat disturbing and will probably be appreciated by those who enjoy hard-core gory horror films. A selection of the “snuff films” that are viewed by David and Amy in the motel room are shown in their entirety. Since they are shown with minimal production values and come across as very “real” they aren’t really fun to watch. I’m not sure why they were included as their tenor is much different than the actual movie, but if it floats your boat, knock yourself out.
The movie itself barely reaches a three star rating so the slim extras are a disappointment. Better extras would have made this a more solid recommendation. It should appeal to those who don’t usually go for gory slasher movies but enjoy a good scare and a little tension.