Most travelers check in, but they don’t check out!
While advertised more as a slasher film, Vacancy is tense thriller that provides throwbacks to films of old, especially Alfred Hitchcock, in order to create its scares.
Tonight’s film was a recommendation from a friend. The trailer shows a young couple’s car break down, which forces them to stay at a sleazy motel. And, in what looks like an updated version of Psycho, the motel manager is watching people through closed-circuit video feeds and making tapes. Are they snuff films? What’s his purpose? Is he just a sicko? Creepy and more creepy imagery abounds. So, let’s check this out before we check in.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
While attempting to drive back home after midnight from a family event, David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson & Kate Beckinsale) experience some car trouble. They stop at a gas station next to a small motel, catching the mechanic (Ethan Embry) as he was leaving for the night. He checks their car out and directs them to the nearest route back to the interstate. They drive away but unfortunately the car breaks down about 2 miles away. They bicker at each other about someone named “Charlie,” and David’s poor choice to get off the interstate, before walking back to the motel.
Entering the Pinewood Motel, the couple is greeted by screams coming from the back room in the manager’s office. Amy tries to convince David they should leave and just stay in the car, but he’e either too upset at her or too proud to listen, and calls for the manager (Frank Whaley) who shuts off his television, stopping the noise. They take a room for the night from the odd man and go into the dirty, 1950s-styled room. They vow to sleep in their clothes, when banging starts happening on the door to the next room. David reports the noise to the manager who tells them it must be vagrants or kids that are squatting, which he’ll take care of.
David, needing to unwind, puts one of the video tapes near the TV into the machine. Amy asks him to keep the sound down, when they realize the tape is a video shot inside the room where they’re staying. It shows a couple being beaten and killed, essentially a snuff film. David finds some hidden cameras in the rooms’ vents when suddenly the power goes out. They flee from the room but two men in masks chase them back. Realizing they are being observed and tormented by these two killers, David sneaks out to the pay phone located in the center of the parking lot. He dials 911 but the call is picked up by the manager who tells him to calm down.
The couple discovers a trap door in the bathroom leading to a series of underground tunnels that access all the rooms, the manager’s office, and the gas station next door. They see a truck driver arrive, and attempt to signal him, but realize he’s “with” the killers, stopping by to pick up a supply of videotapes from the manager. While the killers are distracted with the sale, David and Amy use the tunnel to access the main office and try to call the police on another phone, but are interrupted by the manager returning.
A police officer (David Doty) shows up to ask the manager about the call, but he says there’s been no guests for weeks. Amy and David, who have managed to barricade themselves in the gas station, flag the officer down, screaming for help. He attempts to rescue them, but his car has been sabotaged and he is killed while the couple looks on. They flee into another room, where David makes it appear that Amy has left by the back window, while secretly hiding her in a crawlspace in the ceiling. When he attempts to sneak out, he is stabbed and falls to the floor while Amy watches, silently, through a crack in the ceiling.
The next morning Amy leaves the crawlspace and finds their car, which has been brought to the motel and hidden by one of the killers. While attempting to drive away one of the killers jumps through the sunroof. She drives through a motel wall killing him, and pinning a second killer, revealed to be the mechanic. The manager grabs her and drags her into the office, determined to film her death with a hand-held camcorder. She grabs a pistol off the wall and shoots him dead. She calls 911 and goes back to see David, who is not completely dead. She comforts him as they wait for help to arrive.
“You’re going to need to settle down, sir. You’ll never survive if you lose control, Mr. Fox.” – Mason the Manager
Vacancy pulls no punches and comes off as a taut, lean thriller. It clocks in at only 85 minutes, but the film is actually shorter than that since it includes at least 8 minutes of credits between the opening and the closing. It definitely has a Psycho inspired vibe, but doesn’t dwell on the comparisons, instead getting into a tense cat-and-mouse game between the Fox’s and the killers.
Unlike other films in the slasher/killer-type genre, Vacancy relies on atmosphere, editing and character tension to drive the suspense of the film, not graphic effects. While there is still violence depicted in the film, especially in the snuff film videos, most of it is suggestive and more subtle than one might expect. It takes the lessons learned from Alfred Hitchcock seriously, presenting a thriller in which the audiences fears and expectations complete the terror.
Besides the incredible amount of suspense baked into this film (I almost broke my pen in half during one point), Vacancy offers no ready made answers to certain questions, requiring the audience to work for the answers. For instance, the Fox’s argue vaguely about a problem between them and someone named “Charlie.” Based on the clues dropped it seems like this was their son, who died at a young age because Amy left a gate open (possibly to a pool). They are planning to get a divorce, at least prior to the events at the motel. They process of running for their lives seems to have allowed them to overcome their grief at the loss of a child (in a more cathartic way than the Baxters in Don’t Look Now). Another supposition is that the mechanic sabotaged their car when they stopped in, so that it would break down a short while later. Since he was part of the trio involved in the killings, that makes sense that he wasn’t “on his way home,” but hanging out waiting for victims.
If you’re the type of viewer that shies away from slasher-type films due to the excessive blood and violence, Vacancy maybe the film you’re looking for. I would consider it more of a thriller or suspense film, than an outright horror film.
- Homages to Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho include: the Saul Bass inspired title credits (compare Psycho’s credits to Vacancy’s graphic design), the opening theme music by Paul Haslinger is very Bernard Herrmann inspired, the use of an out-of-the-way motel, the killings inside it, and the manager has a pair of stuffed birds on his desk, much like Norman Bates.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.