If you didn’t have any aversion to cheap motels before watching Vacancy, you will afterward. Vacancy shows us why cheap motels are to be avoided at all costs. When the car of a couple breaks down, they are forced to stay the night at one of these terrors. Greeted by the motel’s creepy manager (Frank Whaley), they flip on the television and learn that the slasher flicks that are playing were actually shot in the very room they are staying in. Soon after they realize this, things start going haywire around them, and they decide they need to escape from the motel.
That seems like an interesting premise, but what makes Vacancy different is the fact that its characters are actually grown up. This isn’t a teenage slasher flick. No, the characters are adults, and have actual problems. We learn right off the bat that there is tension between them, but it isn’t until later that we learn how troubled their relationship is. They aren’t a happy couple, to say the least, and the fact that we find this out through quick snips at one another means we learn some of the depths of the characters before anything even happens.
Now, before anything actually happens, you can guess that one of two possible endings will happen. Either one/both of the characters die at the motel, or both live and end up reconciling due to the events that they just survived. I’m not going to say what actually happens, but instead, I’m going to suggest you watch the movie. It’s not even an hour and a half long, just go watch it.
This short running time means that Vacancy needs to fit in all of its scares within a relatively short timeframe. While it does take a good portion of time at the start to build characters, it manages to fit them all in, and then some. It manages to keep its pacing tight, while not having any extraneous scenes or wasted time. Everything has a purpose, whether to make you feel for the characters or to make you feel uncomfortable watching it.
The plot is basic, the pacing is quick, and the characters are interesting.
Director Nimród Antal understands that the more you see something, the less frightening it becomes. In Vacancy, you don’t often see the people who are terrorizing the couple, and you never get to see their motivations. They’re essentially making snuff films, but we don’t get to find out why they are doing that. In a sense, this makes the entire plot scarier. Although we do eventually see other people, and that is when the film becomes less thrilling.
For the longest time, Vacancy has real tension. It’s frequently fairly frightening, and it leaves you drained by the end. Granted, near the conclusion of the film, the film does get kind of silly, but you can at least understand how it got to that point. That’s about the biggest gripe I have with the film. It ends abruptly, and it would have been nice to get a bit of an epilogue, allowing us to know what ends up happening to everyone involved.
I especially wished for this just because of how good the characters are. While you may not come to like any of them, you can at least appreciate what they go through. There is some depth there, and that’s brought about by some decent acting. The couple, played by Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale are fine, but the standout performance is by the hotel manager played by Frank Whaley. He’s a creep, and Whaley does an excellent job bringing this across in his performance. He is almost the scariest part of the entire production, despite being on-screen far less than the actual “threat.”
What is most surprising about Vacancy is the fact that blood and gore don’t really play into the terror that it shows on-screen. While there are some brutal scenes, they are shown in a way that there isn’t much, if any, blood. The horror of the film comes almost entirely from the psychological side of things. It’s refreshing not to see buckets of gore.
Vacancy is basically what I was hoping for in a horror film. The plot is basic, the pacing is quick, and the characters are interesting. While there are jump scenes, they are well placed and actually add to the film, instead of detracting from it. While the plot does get a slight bit silly near the end, it did seem like one of the better ways it could have finished. It offers some scares, and while it doesn’t stick with you that long, it’ll be remembered if you ever are forced to stay at a cheap, isolated motel.
Conclusion: Vacancy is a solid horror movie.
Recommendation: Vacancy is fun enough to be worth recommending.