Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

After watching director Nimrod Antel’s excellent thriller ‘Vacancy’ I began to ponder as to why so many independent horror movie and thrillers suck so damn bad.  ‘Vacancy’ isn’t an independent thriller, but the sets and setup for the story are so stark and basic that any independent filmmaker working on a meager budget could easily mimic this.  Most of the action in ‘Vacancy’ takes place in a motel room and there are a few scenes on the motel grounds and in a car.  It has a minimal cast, there aren’t any wild special effects of note, though there a few car stunts our independent filmmaker can substitute for something else in its stead.  So I’m asking myself why is ‘Vacancy’ good and these other movies not so?  Is it as simple as talent?  Is Nimrod Antel just a gifted film director and these other guys just need to give it up?  Or is it the acting?  Kate Beckinsdale, Luke Wilson and Frank Whalley are certainly fine veteran actors and have a firm grip on their craft.  Or is it something else altogether?  Well I sure don’t know why things work out the way they do, but ‘Vacancy’ turned out be one finely crafted, tight, taut thriller.

David and Amy Fox (Wilson and Beckinsdale) are on their way home on a dark night on an empty road after a long trip.  When David swerves the car to avoid hitting a raccoon and wakes Amy up, we soon realize that this is a couple that somewhere along the line has lost the love.  In between their incessant bickering and barbs, David hears a clanking noise and sees a gas station which he pulls into.  The attendant is quite helpful, looks at the engine and diddles around with it for a minute then sends them on their merry only to have the car shut down completely after a mile down the road.  Since it’s too late to call a wrecker, the couple are forced to stay the night at a sleazy hotel run by one Mr. Mason (Frank Whalley).  The motel room looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since forever, and there are these loud knocks from the front door and in the adjacent room but nobody’s ever there.  David slips in a video tape that’s on top

of the TV which looks like a snuff film, and worst yet it seems to be taking place in the very room that they are staying in.  After reviewing a few more tapes it’s become obvious that they need to get the hell out of there, but not so fast my friends because now the game has begun.

Adding to my confusion as to why I found ‘Vacancy’ a completely credible thriller is that at its core, there really isn’t anything new or unique here.  We have a weird motel owner, a squabbling couple – who at least aren’t teenagers I suppose, forced together to find a solution, a killer who seems to be at every corner and has virtually every passage to freedom blocked and pops up from out of nowhere, and the prerequisite lone stupid cop on duty who never calls for backup despite the fact that he’s basically found John Wayne Gacy’s basement.  Director Attal manages to build his story slowly, giving us just enough information about the characters in this story to provide us a rooting interest in their well-being, but not overloading the narrative with unnecessary exposition.  The tension he creates is built up reasonably and realistically since he is able to place his characters into their perilous situation without having to resort to making his characters do the stupid things that characters in these types of films often tend to do.

It also helps the filmmakers cause that they had a very engaging and charismatic pair of actors to help execute their plan in Beckinsdale and Wilson.  Since they were playing a married couple with a history and not a pair of horny teenagers, their relationship towards each other was way more believable and credible and their eventual need to trust in each other came off as far more plausible.  Despite the situation they were thrust in and the unlikely odds of them getting out alive, their progression from fear to confusion to survival worked well within construct of the story, and neither character ever became more than what you would expect of them in their efforts to get out of this situation alive, say like one of them all of the sudden turning into a special force commando of some sort.

Things may have gotten a little bit out of control at the end of ‘Vacancy’ but the door had to be closed on this story some kind of way.  But all in all ‘Vacancy’ was a very good thriller that I think all aspiring filmmakers should study and take something away from as they set forth making their own little slasher / thriller, which I will undoubtedly be forced to sit through.  Think about me people – think about me…

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