Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Checking Into Another Roadside Motel, or Thoughts on Vacancy

There’s an obvious Psycho (1960) reference inherent in the premise of Vacancy (2007), you could even call it an homage that begins with the clever updated Bernard Hermann-esque opening credits.  All the elements are there: a roadside motel, a creepy hotel manager (the underrated Frank Whaley), and some hapless victims who spend the night after some convenient car trouble.
Kate Beckinsale, with a sketchy American accent, (which I suppose was easier than having Luke Wilson struggle with an English accent), portrays Amy with Luke as David, a troubled couple who are the only guests at the aforementioned roadside motel.  There’s no cell phone or TV reception, but there’s a stack of videos featuring all the murders that have happened in the room they’re staying in.  The second half of the movie is a cat and mouse survival thriller as Amy and Luke try to fight back and survive the night.
The casting is problematic, while Luke Wilson may be a professional Nice Guy, Kate Beckinsale’s most famous role is Selene, the kick ass black vinyl vampire assassin; it’s difficult to accept her as a panicked suburban housewife.  Kate, like Milla Jovovich, has had extensive combat training in her career, but unlike Milla in A Perfect Getaway (2009), the writers of Vacancy did not take advantage of that. Frank Whaley is excellent as Mason, the homicidal front desk clerk, but his character isn’t really expanded on beyond liking to watch his home movies of him killing people.
Most of the movie takes place in the hotel room, which is wired with hidden cameras as Amy and David run around helplessly.  I found myself listing all the improvised weapons I could see in the room; towel rack, table leg, doorknob in a sock, I’m much happier watching movies where the tables are turned and the victims fight back like Erin in You’re Next (2011).
The violence is surprisingly off-camera for a movie about snuff films, but the subject matter is still uncomfortable in unexpected ways.  Voyeurism is inherent in the cinematic experience; we as an audience are watching this couple being tormented for entertainment, which is very close to what the killers are doing (who we are also watching).  The overall effect is polarizing, and reflected in the movie's current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 55%. 

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