Soon-to-be-divorced couple David and Amy Fox (Wilson, Beckinsale) are driving through the sticks at night when they experience car trouble. Forced to check into a run-down motel, they soon realise that management dont intend for them to last the night
The heavy shadow of Alfred Hitchcock still looms over Hollywood in 2007, with remakes both official (the upcoming The Birds) and unofficial (Disturbia, riffing on Rear Window) shooting down the flume. Vacancy fits into the latter category; a schlock horror that puts a husband and wife under siege in a fleabag motel in Nowheresville, it’s got Psycho’s crimson fingerprints all over it. While it doesn’t come close to matching Hitchcock’s murderous masterpiece, it does achieve some success as a lean and slightly unusual genre pic.
Rather than the usual pack of gabby teenagers, Vacancy’s victims are Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale. It’s refreshing to see more mature faces having a go at this kind of thing, especially Wilson, whose hangdog amiability seasons a rather bland role. And having just two protagonists, instead of a van-load of disposable knife-fodder, makes you care a whole lot more about their fate once they check into the Pinewood Motel.
A dilapidated dive that doesn’t look like it’s had guests for a decade, it‘s run by a rat-faced oddball (Frank Whaley). If his creepily triangulated moustache wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the dysfunctional couple really should have been warned off by the sounds of torture porn coming from the TV in the back office. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game — as the pair realise they’re about to star in a snuff film — starts off strongly, sealing us in a seedy motel room with the protagonists, with the feeling that anything could burst in from any direction.
But as so often with this genre, the build-up is better than the main event. So long as the threat remains grim shadows, it’s easy to imagine your worst fear lurking just outside the frame. Once Vacancy unmasks its sicko but none-too-smart baddies just after the mid-point, though, the tension droops and the movie starts to go through the motions.
It’s a shame, because director Nimród Antal is genuinely good at this stuff, honing mercilessly in on faces in extreme close-up and investing ordinary items such as sparklers with disproportionate levels of menace. If he was working from a script with more playfulness and a few twists in the second half, it could have been one of the year’s best horrors. As it is, Vacancy wraps up with something of a vacant look in its eye.
This stripped-down chiller has some decent jump-frights, but a dearth of memorable moments.