It’s clear from the opening seconds of Vacancy that warring, nearly divorced couple David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) haven’t seen the latest slew of stalk’n’torture flicks. Otherwise, they’d be panicking as soon as their car conks out at night in a remote forest. With no mobile signal (natch) to call the AA, they decide to check into the nearby skanky motel run by a manager (Frank Whaley in Ned Flanders get-up) so creepily nice that they ignore the screams emanating from his TV. Maybe they missed Hostel, House Of Wax, Them, Saw and heck, even Psycho, because they only fret when they find videotapes of brutal murders taking place in the very room they’ve rented. Meanwhile, hidden CCTV cameras eye their every move…
While the Foxes may have let their LoveFilm subscription lapse, screenwriter Mark L Smith and director Nimród Antal (of cult Hungarian quirker Kontroll) certainly haven’t – even the title sequence nods cheekily to Hitchcock. The movie-makers knowingly revel in horror cliché, with mixed results. Within the confines of the shop-worn setup, Antal amps up the fear, filling the screen with Wilson’s face as he twigs that he and the missus are for the chop.
The lean running time ensures a heart-thumping pace, but Smith’s snippy dialogue manages to flesh out characterisation. The lack of horny teen victims makes a refreshing break from slasher lore, but sadly, it’s back to formula when it comes to the by-numbers local-yokel killers whose motivations remain muddy.
Despite clumsy attempts to inject pointed comment on viewer voyeurism (“They’re watching and they’re enjoying themselves,” says Wilson direct to camera), Vacancy still packs a jumpy punch, relying on old-school chills over entrails and sadism. Some will sigh at creaky devices like reanimating corpses, dopey policemen and a cop-out ending, but genre nuts should find their stay an agreeably schlocky, spirited one.