Vacancy

I finally got around to watching a film called Vacancy this week and was pleasantly surprised. The trailers had looked interesting but I don't usually go see blood and gore horror movies in the theaters, because a) they might scare me enough to leave and I hate to waste money and b) I talk too much. Seriously, I complain a lot when I watch movies about, say, teenagers being systematically murdered in the woods. The more they ignore my well meaning advice the more frustrated I become (and the faster they die) until eventually I am left shaking my head in disgust while the credits roll. While this is barely acceptable in my own home, it would be a shameful way to behave in the theater. Since Vacancy is about a couple chased through a hotel by a bunch of crazy filmmaking murderers I knew they were going to need lots of guidance from me.

When we first meet David (Luke Wilson) and Amy Fox (Kate Beckinsale) they are in the car, in the middle of a long drive, and an even longer fight. Arguing seems to be the only way this couple can communicate and I had to wonder why the heck they were alone together at all. (Lesson number one – While being cooped up in a small space with someone you don't get along with is one definition of hell, enjoy it while you can because there could be much bigger trouble looming.) David swerves to avoid an animal in the road and damages the car, making him nervous about continuing their long journey. They stop at what looks like an abandoned gas station and meet a friendly mechanic who tells them their fan is dinged but should be okay, and gives them directions back to the interstate. (Lesson number two – Stick to the main roads.)

They're only back on the road a short time (not even long enough for a real argument, more of a squabble) when the car makes increasingly ominous noises, breaks down, and they abandon it to walk back to the gas station. (Lesson number three – The friendly mechanic may not be so friendly after all.) They make their way back to the gas station, which is closed, and from there across the street to a shabby hotel that looks as though its last customer checked out thirty years ago. (Lesson number four – Sometimes sleeping in your car is your best option.)

Amy is understandably freaked out when they hear a woman screaming as they enter the hotel. The creepy Ned Flandersesque desk clerk laughs it off saying he's only watching a movie. He soon convinces them to stay the night and puts them in the honeymoon suite, telling them it's got a few extras. Which it does; just not good extras. (Lesson number five – Don't trust an obsessive compulsive who wears giant glasses left over from the 80's.)

The room is just as crummy as you might imagine, with an enormous bug lurking on the wall, which falls off and crawls under the carpet. (This is the kind of perk that wins you those five star reviews in the Important Guide to Vacationing and other books.) The water in the taps runs a ghastly brown (shades of Dark Water)) and everything looks weirdly sticky. Amy decides to sleep in her clothes (the car would still have been the best choice, even at this late date) while David unwinds by popping a videotape in the VCR. (I told you the hotel was dated.)

Surprise! The tapes are snuff films, showing honeymooning couples being murdered and they take place right in the very room David and Amy occupy! This is where the meat of the story starts to happen. Our unhappy couple is going to have to outrun, outthink and outfight a bunch of murderous creeps just to win the right to get back to their broken down car and their wreck of a marriage. It's not hardly fair, is it?

This is where Vacancy comes into its own. Instead of featuring whiny blondes who stand around crying and cowering (the way I would in this situation) or muscular, but dim, boys who put their axes and flashlights down before they go in search of their missing companions, the protagonists of Vacancy take the time to research and respond accordingly. Research what you may ask. It's not like they can go online and Google "How to Escape from Crazed Nutballs in a Scary Hotel" (and even if they could, that search string is not very helpful. Give it a try.) Instead they go back to the tapes and learn what they can about their opponents. It's extremely gratifying.

The other thing I particularly liked about this film is that it's not gruesome and gory. I never once had to hide my eyes and only rarely did I feel compelled to look away from the screen until things calmed down a little. Vacancy doesn't rely on splatter to increase the tension; instead it plays a cat and mouse game with the viewer as well as with Amy and David. And speaking of mice, there's an odd scene where our heroic pair is crawling through a tunnel and encounters a whole bunch of rats. Really, how many rats have you ever found in a tunnel? Two would be my maximum but these guys find dozens. And they're an odd size, not quite grownup. It's as though Amy and David have stumbled into the local prom for rats. The only reason I can think of for all these fellows is the same reason there are spinning blades in Galaxy Quest; someone thought they'd be cool and scary. But I digress. Smart heroes who listen to my advice, a police officer who draws his gun at the first sign of danger, a strategy meeting and thrills and chills all combine to make a movie I would definitely watch again. The trailer and several other clips can be found here.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Disgusted, who says, "I'm not going to watch South Park anymore. They don't bother to think about their responses, they just take a first impression, extend it through a multitude of logical fallacies, and then re-use old jokes. Which is sad, because I used to really like them." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.