In the swift, vicious Vacancy, soon-to-be-divorced spouses David (Luke Wilson) and Amy (Kate Beckinsale) take a detour off the interstate highway that, after their car breaks down, leads them to a mountainside motel whose primary revenue comes from the production and sale of snuff films. Turns out they’re the establishment’s newest star victims, their every movement and conversation inside their cockroach-infested honeymoon suite recorded and relayed to the manager’s (Frank Whaley) video-monitor bank by multiple concealed cameras. Vacancy‘s audience, however, is provided an even greater number of intimate views on the sadistic action by Kontroll director Nimrod Antal, whose creepily composed widescreen frame proves designed for extreme discomfort. A skillfully assembled opening car sequence augments the contempt dripping off David and Amy’s bickering tongues by visually isolating the characters on opposing sides of the screen and in constricting rear-view mirrors, while the set of bird figurines on the motel’s front desk slyly render Whaley’s mousy clerk as a modern-day Norman Bates (peeping not via a hole in the wall, but numerous camera lenses). Antal’s array of sleek cinematographic arrangements—including a shot of horrified David watching a snuff tape that’s structured so that he’s looking at us, thereby creating a two-way-mirror dynamic—succinctly link his villains to his viewers as likeminded voyeurs turned on by scenes of torture and mayhem. Yet unlike the work of Michael Haneke, Antal’s attempt at addressing violent-media appetites doesn’t involve a pedantic denial of traditional suspense-movie thrills, of which there are quiet a few even as the story veers from the efficiently chilling to the slightly far-fetched. This desire to indulge in the loud noises, dark shadows, and tense centerpieces typical of its B-movie wrong-turn scenario eventually winds up diffusing any potential commentary on our cultural consumption of deviant cinematic entertainment. Still, at a mere 80 minutes, Vacancy is taut, claustrophobic, and brutally lean, even if it’s also rather empty-headed, a state of affairs exposed by its pat decision to posit life-and-death trauma as the cure-all for a disintegrating relationship.
The sound is stellar-lush with goose-bumpy lows and violent highs-but the image, while boasting great color saturation, suffers from piss-poor shadow delineation. As David and Amy make their way to the motel after their car breaks down, they completely disappear into the surrounding night, and black crushing is more than apparent once they make it to their motel room, with the object in Kate Beckinsale's arms resembling a smear made by a magic marker rather than a jacket.
A note on the extended snuff films included in the extras sectionsa: Was all footage of the two toking bruthas cut from the film because someone had the good sense to point out that only white people would be caught dead in the story's bumblebuck? Elsewhere: a wisely excised, alternate opening, which would have begun the film with a snippet of its final scene; Luke Wilson tries to take a leak, only to be interrupted by a raccoon; and a serviceable behind-the-scenes feature that pays its respects to Nimrod Antal's claustrophobic style and the grunt work of the film's stunt guys. Rounding things out is a bunch of previews.
A fierce little spooker with screwy notions of how to salve a wounded relationship.