No Wonder There's Vacancies
"Vacancy" looks like your typical teen slasher horror as we have a couple ending up stranded in the middle of nowhere heading to a creepy motel and in doing so tipping it's hat to Hitchcock's "Psycho". But then "Vacancy" is not some no brainer teen slasher horror, in fact it is surprisingly good as director Nimr├│d Antal shuns just being predictable and goes for delivering horror through atmosphere and a sense of foreboding. And it works because whilst "Vacancy" takes it's time to get going and ends up a little commercial in finding an ending what happens in between is pretty good and makes a change to watch a movie which tries to strike fear in the watcher through atmosphere rather than in your face gore.
Driving back from visiting relatives David (Luke Wilson - Blades of Glory) and Amy Fox (Kate Beckinsale - Click) find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere after their car breaks down. Tensions are already fraught between them as they are on the verge of divorce and this incident doesn't help as they have to walk in the middle of the night to find a motel. But that is the least of their problems as when they do find a motel all is not as it seems as David puts on a video left in their room and they discover that what they are watching is a snuff movie filmed in the very same room. And it doesn't take long for them to realise that they are to be the next stars of a snuff movie.
So here is the thing, the storyline to "Vacancy" is not that original and looks like the sort of thing you expect in a teen horror. So we get the stranded in the midst of nowhere with just a creepy motel to go to but Nimr├│d Antal makes more of it than most directors. And what he does is focus on creating an atmosphere be it in the prolonged build up where we learn that Amy and David are about to be divorced or in the creepiness of the motel's desk clerk. It gives "Vacancy" a different feeling to what you expect from such an unoriginal idea.
It's not all unoriginal and the initial scenes in the motel room where you think you know what will happen only for something else to occur are quite good. As is the whole premise of Amy and David that they are going to be the next victims in a snuff movie having watched one on a video left in their room. It's actually quite clever but more importantly creates this sense of foreboding as what David sees on the video, such as the banging on the walls and flickering lights starts happening to them.
Now most movies after this build up would then fall into being predictable where we get chases followed by in your face gore but Antal resists going down this route. Yes "Vacancy" becomes all about Amy and David escaping but it's all about the sense of fear, the sense that outside their room are the bad guys who want to kill them and so they need to outwit them. Of course there is blood and guts and unfortunately after spending so much time creating atmosphere the ending to "Vacancy" ends up playing to popular demand but before that Antal once more creates fear through various deaths rather than just going for gore.
And whilst "Vacancy" sounds like something some teens would appear in, having a middle aged married couple makes it more interesting especially as Amy and David are very normal. Yes we have normal people in a movie, those who argue, who have problems and at times don't talk to each other. In a way it makes it more believable and both Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson do good jobs of playing normal people. It also means by having are innocent victims as normal allows the bad guys to be a little bit quirky rather than over the top quirky. So when we meet the owner of the motel Mason there is an element that he is a bit strange but not in a completely over the top manner.
What this all boils down to is that "Vacancy" is a surprisingly good horror movie because director Nimr├│d Antal takes what is quite a generic and obvious storyline and fills it with atmosphere rather than simple in your face horror. It's not perfect, the set up feels prolonged and the ending seems to pander to public expectation but the sense of fear and foreboding he delivers in the middle is wonderful making it a movie which keeps you gripped by what will happen next.