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Vacancy (2007)

Vacancy. Feature film. (2007, 85 mins) IMDB

...A horror film with cheap thrills...

H

orror films exist to terrify you. I guest that's the best description of them. Since I don't watch them, don't care to, I can't rate this film in its genre, but I will say there were some heart-jumping moments, but that could have just been me.

As a premise for a story, I think we've seen it or variations of it, but here goes. Act I is about meeting a couple and getting them to a run-down motel away from civilization. Act II has them in their room, trapped and terrified. Act III has them outside the room but still in the hotel as they fight off their attackers.

A married couple in their thirties are driving in the middle of nowhere at night. Since we need a movie, their car breakdowns which leads them to spending the night at the motel-in-hell. Further, since not a lot happens until the motel scenes, this married couple doesn't like each other and make snide comments to one another. We learn they had a young son who died in an accident. That sounds familiar as well, but you need something happening in Act I.

The room they stay in is not what you'd expect. Yes, there's a seventies decor in need not of cleaning, but a complete gutting. Yet, that's superficial. No, what's different is the room has several cameras, a trap door to an underground labyrinth and has seen many murders--all recorded and available for their viewing. It's set up for an unsuspecting couple to arrive, be video-taped, be terrified and eventually killed. The owner and manager isn't interested in running a motel, but in creating and selling snuff films. This is what our heroes are up against.

The intensity of the terror slowly builds until they are in a life and death struggle. As is typical of horror films, we don't see the menace at first, just sounds then glimpses until finally we see complete bodies with masks, mechanic overalls and knives.

All of the obvious things for help aren't there. No one else is staying at the motel, so they can't be witnesses or provide aid. For the same reason, it's in the middle of nowhere. A pay phone doesn't connect with 911 but with the bad guy manager. Cells phones don't work or are quickly lost or destroyed. Escaping is impossible.

I'm curious if you could make this film in, say, Manhattan. It'd certainly be a tougher challenge.

The film doesn't run at full throttle. We have an intense sequence that ends and we calm down for a bit then another sequence to repeat the process. It is very much like riding a roller coaster. It's also a pattern of narrative that is found in other genres, but in this film it is easy to see the pattern.

Further, since we want a ninety movie, our heroes can't be killed right away and that's part of the premise. The filmmakers of the snuff film want terror before the final kill. It all makes sense to me.

Just when you think there's nothing more these people can do except wait in the room for the killers to arrive with their knives, they discover a trap door in the washroom which leads them to a series of underground tunnels. With these tunnels they are able to turn the corner and fight back against the bad guys.

Eventually a policeman shows up, searches and realizes something terribly wrong has happened, but he's killed before he can call for backup.

There is a cat and mouse chase underground and between the different rooms the tunnels connect to and eventually the couple end up back in another room. Dawn is approaching and they are still alive, but the killers are still outside. The husband discovers a trap door in the ceiling (not likely, but hey this is a film after all). The wife climbs up into the rafters and waits it out. During this time, her husband is attacked, stabbed and killed. I expected him to make a phoenix like rise and come to her rescue later when she's fighting for her life with the manager. That doesn't happen, but he's still alive.

Yes. Morning comes. The killers don't know she was in the room, they think she ran away. She comes down from the rafters, makes it to their car and starts it up when she's attacked. She rams the car into one of the rooms and kills two attackers. There's just the manager left. Here she has a knock down fight with him in the office where she's able to shot him several times. He collapses to the floor dead.

And since the husband lives, the whole ordeal has brought new hope into their lives. Instead of being in the process of divorcing, they're probably going to get back together and live happily ever after.

Overall, I think it's an effective film for cheap thrills, but beyond that nothing; it's just about that cheap thrills.

Posted 2009/02/03 at 19h09ET in Movie Commentary.

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