Vacancy (2007): Remember When?

Still from film with Beckinsale and Wilson as the Fox couple
Watching the Hitchcockian thriller Vacancy, with Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson, the first thing that springs to mind is a sort of “remember when” game. Going back a few years to a time before cell (mobile) phones became smart and a time when not every vehicle had a GPS in it. The film recalls the helplessness of travelling without those modern safety nets. Of course, at one point Beckinsale’s character goes to use her cell phone but it has no signal.

In this world, apparently, unlike the “real world” the two people in peril do not each have a cell phone. They also rely upon an old fashioned mode of navigation, in other words, a map. The television that comes with their room (a homicidal killing room in fact) has an old-fashioned telly and a videotape machine with VHS footage of prior victims to watch.

The film itself is a sort of homage to Hitchcock type thrillers and it works extremely well. Sadly there was a sequel, but I have never watched it. The first feature works like a highly tuned orchestra and hits all the right notes. Anything else would be a pale echo of this piece and its original content.

Everything about Vacancy works. In the casting department, Wilson and Beckinsale make a believable couple as the Fox’s. Even more, the two deliver as parents who have lost a child with each handling the dilemma and their grief very differently. The underlying tension from their decision to end their marriage provides a great counterpoint to the increasing stress of the situation and a little comedy relief as well.

The hotel manager, Mason, played by Frank Whaley is perfect as the annoying ass that would lose more customers than gain with his attitude and priggish behavior. It is not really surprising that people, who end up staying in the human version of the “Raid Hotel,” are tricked into doing so. If they had a choice, the manager’s aura of obvious jerk-wad would drive them all off.

This all goes toward making us, the audience, uncomfortable with the place. On top of the manager and the reception area, everything about the room itself is disturbing. Right down to that awful green motif that did not look good in the 1970s when avocado was the winning color for most kitchen appliances.

Beckinsale’s character Amy Fox states firmly that she is “sleeping with my clothes on.” Wilson, as husband David, adds that he will be sleeping “with my shoes on.” Giving us further proof that we were not wrong to be “grossed out” and disturbed by this room. The “badness” of the place is apparent even before the giant cockroach is seen falling off the bathroom light switch.

The motel room looks like pretty standard fare. Tacky colors, questionable housekeeping standards and a slapped together style of decorating, the only thing missing is a coin operated “magic fingers” massage machine by the headboard of the bed. (Another remember when moment for me; I recall quite clearly begging my mother and father for quarters when one of our holiday hotel rooms had this marvelous contraption attached to the bed. Later, when my parents could afford more expensive motel rooms, these great jiggling machines disappeared from my young vacation life.)

During the special features of the Blu-Ray DVD, the film’s creator, director Nimród Antal talks about seeing these rundown and seemingly deserted motels by the side of the road and wondering how they managed to keep running. Sort of a real estate version of the lights being on but no one, like customers for instance, being home.

These slightly derelict inns gestated into Vacancy along with the weird, creepy and deadly guys who run the motel that the Amy and David are forced to check into. The feature also owes a lot to the myth of the “Snuff Film.”

This particular urban myth is fairly persistent and has generated a number of films and books about a movie where someone is actually murdered onscreen. A sort of ultimate thrill for the world’s sickest voyeurs and of course for as long as the rumor of these films has been around so has the insistence that they do not really exist.

A kind of cinematic version of the boogeyman, if you will, where experts (like parents) tell the public (children) that no such “monster” exists. A film type of “closet monster” which continues to be whispered about and that certain people swear really are out there to be viewed by the stubbornly curious.

By the end of the film, which also has a distinct Alfred Hitchcock feel to it, the audience is drained from all the suspense that this thriller has thrown at it. Vacancy is quite a short film at 85 minutes and it drives forward at a frantic pace. Each scene spins into the next with little respite for the film’s characters or the viewer.

But besides all the nail biting suspense, the film harks back to days when real keys opened your room door and not some sort of electronic card. Motels were these quaint one level affairs where, if you were lucky, there was a pool in front and the vending machines had a pretty good choice of snacks for way under a dollar. And of course “magic fingers.”

23 January 2015

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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