Length: 85 minutes
Director: Nimrod Antal (Kontroll)
Writer: Mark L. Smith (Séance)
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Luke Wilson, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry
Nimrod Antal’s directorial debut was another claustrophobic horror film, filmed in his native Hungary, called “Kontroll”. That movie- about a serial killer in the Hungarian underground subway stations (complete with a heroine dressed in a bear suit)- was utterly creepy and, sadly, utterly unseen by mostly everyone in the U.S. “Vacancy”, his American debut, unfortunately suffered the same fate. Blame bad marketing. For a genre in which critics and audiences alike complain about lack of intelligence and quality, “Vacancy” is definitely above average. Amy Fox (Kate Beckinsale- replacing Sarah Jessica Parker who thankfully bailed during pre-production) and her estranged soon-to-be ex-husband David (Luke Wilson) decide to take a short cut on the way home from visiting her parents (are shortcuts ever a good idea in horror movies?). David tries to avoid making a poor raccoon (or was it a squirrel?) road kill and soon the car starts sounding a little funny. They pull off into a small town that isn’t on their road map and are pleased to discover, despite the late hour, that a mechanic (Ethan Embry) is all too happy to help them get back on their merry way. It’s too good to be true and they are soon broken down on the side of the road. They can either wait it out in the car until morning or stay the night at the deserted motel a mile down the road. Here’s just a small way that “Vacancy” separates itself from the pack- instead of running on auto pilot and having the characters follow the motions- there are actual discussions about whether or not this is a good idea. Unlike most characters in modern horror flicks, Amy and David actually have brains. She’s against the motel, but he talks her into it. It may seem odd that the sole employee (Frank Whaley) is watching horror films at full volume and is a little weird in his mannerisms, but David reasons that anyone would be if they worked at a motel in the middle of nowhere (For some reason, I couldn’t help but think of the hotel in “Touch of Evil”). Their “honeymoon” suite is anything but fancy (“I’m sleeping in my clothes”, Kate declares), but that’s the least of their problems. When they can’t get any reception on the room’s T.V., they decide to pop in one of the videos lying around. It appears to be a horror movie- the clerk must be a big fan- but, wait, the background setting looks awfully familiar… I won’t go into too much detail about what happens next, but you get the idea. At slightly less than an hour and a half in it’s running time, “Vacancy” is tightly paced and very tense. Antal has made a horror movie for adults. This isn’t a “Hills Have Eyes” or one of those “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remakes. It’s a studio movie (which probably explains some of the ending), but I have a feeling that Antal had his freedom. There’s no forced back story on why the villains are the way they are and it’s slightly hinted at why they are doing what they’re doing, but instead of wasting time on reason- we get an actual horror film instead. Once it gets going, the movie doesn’t stop. Next time you drive through a small town and it’s a little late- you might decide to wait until the next city before you stop for a rest- or maybe just sleep in the car instead.