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Review by: 
A.J. MacReady
Release Date: 
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Nimrod Atel
Luke Wilson
Kate Beckinsale
Frank Whaley
Bottom Line: 

 This movie will not move you.  It will not teach you anything you didn't already know about the human condition.  It is not going to make you think deep and reflective thoughts about the world in which we live.  No; this movie wants to do one thing, and one thing only.  It wants to scare the shit out of you.  And it does that well.
I have to admit, I was pretty impressed at how well this flick achieved its goals.  My girlfriend wanted to see Disturbia and while I didn't mind checking that one out, I talked her into seeing Vacancy instead.  Thank the Lord I did, cause not only did I have a great time, it was just as entertaining to see the movie scare her more and more, making her place her hand to her mouth and occasionally making strange, exclamatory noises.  She didn't scream, though (damn).  That was the lady behind us, who yelped not once, but twice during the film's running time.  And she wasn't a teenager, she was over thirty, like us.  The movie just simply got her.  And I don't know a better recommendation than that.
Vacancy is a simple setup executed to near perfection.  David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) are a couple who are about done with the whole shebang; as the movie opens they don't stop arguing and sniping at one another for roughly ten whole minutes.  But their impending divorce and their obvious weariness of each other takes a backseat when their car breaks down and they backtrack to a seedy roadside motel.
The manager (Frank Whaley) seems strange, but they have nowhere else to go so they figure they'll spend the night and deal with the car in the morning.  But then someone starts knocking on the door, and the walls.  Then they find some videotapes in the room that appear to be recordings of people, travelers like themselves, being horribly slaughtered on camera.  That's when David and Amy realize that the room in the videos is the very same room they're in, and that there are cameras in the walls, in the air ducts, watching their every move - and it would seem that they are the next to be filmed, and it's showtime.
I loved this movie.  After about twenty minutes or so, it kicks into high gear and doesn't stop until it's over.  Is it perfect?  No, it's not; there are a few minor contrivances (including kind of a cheat at the climax), but nothing that ruins the experience.   So is it worthwhile?  Yes, and then some.  A no-frills premise played straight and horrifying, quality actors who sell the situation, and a director who understands the material; that's what you get.  I had never heard of director Nimrod Antal before, but rest assured I will pay attention to him now.  He and DP Andrzej Sekula (Pulp Fiction) get right inside this creepy, dark world and it pays dividends.  The acting is really quite good - Beckinsale is solid as usual, but I was REALLY surprised by Wilson.  Having only seen him in comedic roles, I was pretty stoked to see him take a role like this and do as well as he did; very believable and terrified, his mind racing as he tries to find a way to save them from a horrible fate.  Whaley is appropriately creepy as an odd little weasel running this snuff enterprise in the middle of nowhere; he's got some nice moments here.
A bit of warning for my fellow gorehounds, however: this is not a bloodbath flick AT ALL.  There are some vicious parts, but they're quick and never dwelled on.  This movie aims to twist the screws on you, not turn your stomach.  The R rating is obviously for language more than violent content, but honestly, when a movie does what it sets out to do as well as this one, we can deal with a lack of the wet stuff.  It helps also that you don't have to turn your brain off - this is a much more intelligent affair than most movies of this type, and the time you'd normally spend bitching about all the stupid things the characters are doing can now be spent in a heightened state of white-knuckle suspense.  Newcomer Mark L. Smith has turned in a smart script for his feature writing debut.
The DVD features are a little on the skimpy side, with the short Checking In: Behind-the-Scenes of Vacancy featurette, deleted scenes, and the extended versions of the “snuff” films made at the motel, which are shot on video and are far scarier when seen in short glimpses in the film proper rather than in their entirety.
Vacancy is a short (80 minutes) and very sweet little flick.  Unassuming yet wholly proficient in its execution, it's a fun ride and a kickass night out at the movies.  Good luck keeping it out of your mind the next time you've gotta stay in a motel.

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