Two weeks after we were spoiled by the sludgy monument of Grindhouse
, a whole other low-budget thrill ride from the annals of our sticky-floor, damp-seat, scratched-print celluloid history is deployed with full-force. Following his promising debut, Kontroll, director Nimrod Antal
goes four-to-the-floor for a miniature exercise in suspense and terror with his first English-language film, Vacancy.
The long and winding road that Amy and David Fox (Kate Beckinsale
and Luke Wilson
) drive down has an already ominous feel before the couple swerve off to avoid a raccoon. They bicker about his impatience and her "Zoloft/Prozac cocktail" as they pull into the Pinewood Motel and garage to see if the car can handle the ride home. The mechanic (a brief Ethan Embry
) fixes it, but only a mile back into the trip, the car breaks down again. The old Pinewood seems their only option as the mechanic is gone until morning. Article continues below
The proprietor of the establishment, a weasel of a man named Mason (Frank Whaley
), gives them the honeymoon suite for no extra charge, full of amenities as varied as a cockroach the size of a tennis ball and a television with six different channels of static snow. It's not until David pops in a video that they realize the room is actually a set for snuff films and the camera is getting ready for their close-up. Their marital difficulties get tossed out the window in lieu of warding off a pair of silver-masked murderers.
Vacancy is a beast of atmosphere and pacing, putting emphasis on the claustrophobia not only within the underground maze the motel is built on but in the rooms and parking lot of the grungy one-nighter. Any shot outside seems cornered-in by the structure itself, giving the parking lot the feel of a stage where all the action is hidden.
Though obviously influenced by Hitchcock, Antal and screenwriter Mark L. Smith have a hard time making us give a damn about the Foxes (get it?) and the wanderers that pass through the motel. We are given time in the beginning to understand the situation they are in, but there's no real identity beyond what they mean to each other, something ol' Alfred would never have let slide. This isn't helped by an absurd deus ex machina that is pulled at the last minute.
For cheap thrills, however, Vacancy has teeth and a relentless attitude towards terror. From the minute the two characters enter the hotel, the fright becomes gleefully rampant and Smith's script kicks it into high-gear, baiting the film with tricks to keep the audience intrigued by what is: basically, two scared people in a room. Sure, there are the necessary "I don't care anymore, I love you" moments, but Antal deftly speeds through them to get back to the Fox's constant attempt to evade Mason andhis two killers. As was evident in Kontroll, Antal has a gift for pacing and B-movie thrills that potently pushes your buttons without a care in the world. With Vacancy, he proves that he has the chops to become an auteur of sleaze, deftly tuning movies that are considered in bad taste. But if true skuzz like Are We Done Yet? and Wild Hogs are in good taste, my money will go to Antal any day of the week.