A 'Vacancy' sign at film's gory core

Posted: April 20, 2007

If "Disturbia" indicates that voyeurism and murder are alive and well in the 'burbs, "Vacancy" shows that things are even worse in the boonies.

Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale play a pair of bitter antagonists in a failing marriage forced to check into a Bates-ish motel in the sticks when their car breaks down.

The room is almost hilariously bad (a quiet triumph of art direction) - rustic fixtures (and maybe sheets) that haven't been changed since the 1950s, except for the cheap VCR attached to a Soviet-bloc TV.

The bored husband pops in a tape, and sees what appears to be a clinically violent horror film. Only the carnage looks eerily real, like the victims are really being hacked to death.

And the room looks eerily like the one they're in.

Suddenly there's a crashing at the door . . .

It's a good set-up. Spooky, efficient, and Wilson and Beckinsale do a nice job establishing their characters, with just a few brushstrokes, as a couple who've fallen apart because their child has died.

The movie is sort of like a Wes Craven version of "Babel" - two people striving to cope with grief suddenly find themselves in a position to fight back against random death.

There's even a self-referential, "Scream"-ish angle. Once Wilson's character deduces they've stumbled into a snuff-film factory, he examines the VCR tapes to study the methods of the filmmaker/murderers, looking for a pattern that might suggest an escape strategy.

The way "Vacancy" places movie-making on the same plane as murder would seem to create space for some sort of postmodern commentary (implicit in the title?) about graphic violence in horror movies.

But "Vacancy" isn't a commentary, just another graphically violent horror movie, traveling a well-worn path - urbanites wandering into the countryside and being accosted by rural weirdos.

It has nothing to offer in the end but carnage, and what appears to be one of the most fraudulent test-audience re-shoot endings ever filmed. *

Produced by Hal Lieberman, directed by Nimrod Antal, written by Mark L. Smith, music by Paul Haslinger, distributed by Sony Pictures.

LIEBERMAN INTERVIEW: Page 64

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