Director: Nimród Antal (Kontroll)
Writer: Mark L. Smith
Producer: Hal Lieberman
Starring: Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsdale, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry, Scott G. Anderson
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 85 min
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reviewed by Andrew Dykstra
     If the 4 stars didn't tip you off enough, here it is in plain english: contrary to certain schools of buzz, Vacancy is a fine little piece of slasher goodness. From the great acting to the engaging writing to the slowly tightening thread of suspense throughout, this one's a winner.

      When Vacancy opens up, we find married couple David (Luke Wilson) and Amy (Kate Beckinsdale) on a long car ride back from Amy's parents' house. True to the rules of the genre, they get car trouble in the middle of nowhere. In the dark of night, the only lights around emanate from a decrepit old service station and a near-deserted Pinewood Motel next door to it. After a moment of false hope in which the mechanic (Ethan Embry, actually appearing in a movie again) tells them that it's just a bent fan blade, they completely break down just a mile towards the highway of their salvation. Where else can they go? The Pinewood Motel awaits, with its off-kilter manager (played to high strung perfection by the incredibly underrated Frank Whaley), unexplained loud noises, and extensive collection of snuff films, some shot on location inside the very room they are occupying. Cozy.

      I know that I'm trumpeting a concept that is derivative. I am not arguing against that. Psycho and Identity have already made their rounds in this section of slasher territory. The premise of the film is not where I take my defensive stand. Despite Vacancy being something we've seen again and again in terms of its basic narrative (one of my many disappointments with Shooter - review), there's a heart in it that is a rarer find in Hollywood horror as of late.

      The movie wants you to feel more than superficial thrills and jumping heart rates. It creates a fear that permeates the characters and bleeds out of the screen. It has a genuinely dank, sinister atmosphere. It has moments of true catharsis. And as many times as we've seen the power of suffering to bond people together, we see it again in a way we can believe. Vacancy's ideas are not original, but it's one of very few recent efforts of this breed that actually believe in those ideas.

      Besides some nice camerawork and well done cinematography, the characterization we find within Vacancy is something unlike what we see in most horror/thrillers. Although the bad guys are basically charicatures of the typical slasher villains, we have here protagonists that actually stop and think things through and make intelligent, wise decision about what their next set of actions should be. So instead of stupid teenagers who make the dumbest and most illogical choices, we have two people here who obviously live in the real world and have seen a horror movie or two and act accordingly.

      Honestly, I'm kind of suprised that Vacancy isn't surpassing more expectations. The trailer sold the movie fairly enough, even if it was a little bland and carried more than its share of genre influences. Unless you're all caught up on your homework, chances are you haven't seen the Hungarian movie Kontroll, the only other full length feature that director Nimrod Antal has done. On top of that, the glorious outset of spring doesn't put most people in the mood to get some R-rated horror chills induced at the theater. Don't get me wrong here. My suprise has nothing to do with Vacancy's modest take at the B.O. on its opening weekend. That had to be expected considering all the previously stated elements in this paragragh. My suprise has everything to do with the mediocre reaction it's getting from audiences and critics. I'm telling you, folks, this little flick deserves your money.

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