It seems that every weekend there’s a new horror flick. The reason being that, no matter how good or bad they may be, they usually do good business. As the genre has become more prolific, so has its outlandishness and its senselessness, each film trying to outdo the others in terms of gore, cheap thrills, and imaginative means of creating excruciating pain.
With that said, let me tell you about “Vacancy.” It features none of the following: mutants, diabolical puppets, zombies, vampires, werewolves, extravagant technological death traps, or a low-cost European lodging establishment. There are no self-righteous maniacs trying to teach people the error of their ways by brutally murdering them. There are no killers who find the need to come back from the dead to exact revenge. These are all reasons why this film will likely stand out from this year’s already crowded crop.
It’s a decidedly simple concept: possibly-psychotic hicks trying to kill two unsuspecting victims. The unfortunate duty this time around belongs to David and Amy Fox, played by Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale. After the Hitchcock-style opening credits, we are launched immediately into their story. No annoying prologue or back-story, just a bickering couple lost on a highway at night.
Their car breaks down and they are forced to walk back to a hotel they spotted. After checking in with the odd manager, the menace begins. There’s no labyrinthine secret or legend they have to uncover, they merely have to escape with their lives. They slowly figure out the killers’ methods, and are able to get the upper hand more than once.
It’s a refreshingly straightforward take on a tired genre. It’s short and tight and every action has a reason. We don’t care why the killers’ are after them, we only know they’ve done it before to others. The only advantage they have is a knowledge of the layout of the motel and some 90s era video equipment. Because the villains are not invincible, it makes the possibility of David and Amy’s escape that much more probable, and the film becomes more exciting as a result.
Directed by Nimród Antal, the movie revels in inexpensive and easily produced scares that still manage to be frightening. Heavy knocking on one or more doors or the simplicity of light and shadow are enough to get us going. We never doubt that the killers are just creeps in masks, but that doesn’t make them any less terrifying.
The film is weakest when it tries to indulge the sentimentality of David and Amy’s floundering marriage. Their child has died before the movie begins, and while he is not overly mentioned, there is just a little too much talk about their emotional problems. Another weak spot is Luke Wilson’s performance. Poor guy, you can tell he’s trying, but he can’t conjure the emotional honesty needed to get him through some of the scenes.
If you’re looking for a good simple thriller before the onslaught of the summer blockbusters begins, then this is your ticket. It’s one of the few horror movies of the past few years that can give you a good scare without becoming extremely ridiculous.