Deliverance in Modern Garb

First of all, I must acknowledge that I am not a horror fan. I am not an adrenaline junkie who has to be terrified out of my wits on a regular basis to feel alive. I have always approached scary movies by viewing most of them through my fingers or (when home) peeking from a crack in a blanket within which I have cocooned myself. My greatest fear is of being terrified and not being able to control that emotion.

However, there are times when I am irresistibly drawn to give horror another try. Usually this is when an actor I really admire and appreciate is cast in a screenplay where I wouldn’t usually encounter him (or her). I really like Luke Wilson (even when he plays dorky deputy sheriffs with big front teeth), and appreciate Kate Beckinsale’s talent; in Vacancy they make a terrific team. With a double bill like that, I couldn’t resist. I won’t be able to tell you too much about the plot of the film because it would be completely spoiled, but I can tell you about the craft of the film, which in itself makes it worth watching.

Frank Whaley as Mason in VacancyThe basic story of Vacancy revolves around the soon-to-be-divorced Amy and David Fox. In order to avoid a long traffic jam on the interstate, David takes an exit that he thinks will be a shortcut, only to find, as the day slips away and night falls, that he has made a major error in judgment and is lost. Add a car breakdown and a long walk back to the nearest inhabited building which turns out to be an empty ’60s-something hotel with a very creepy and psychotic manager (who is also a voyeur and entrepreneur in homemade snuff films) and you have a solid recipe for scare potential.

Lindsey Hayes Kroeger and David Rapaport did a phenomenal job casting this movie. Luke Wilson plays David Fox as the exhausted, whipped, jaded, emotionally flat, and completely defeated wreck of a husband that the screenwriter must have had in mind. He is utterly believable in his sarcasm and his struggle between simultaneously wanting and not wanting to hurt his wife—so much so that it is painful to watch. On the other hand, Kate Beckinsale plays the ego-crushing, controlling, long-suffering, and very bitter, broken wife to perfection. And, finally, Frank Whaley plays the diabolical hotel manager, Mason, with a talent that makes it seem like he is the devil himself, not over-the-top at all—just spooky and completely weird.

And where has director Nimrod Antal been hiding? (Actually, I checked, and he has been living and making films in Hungary but has come back to live in California.) I sincerely hope he stays around because his directing is masterful. Vacancy is well-executed, formulaic horror. All of the expected elements are there, but Antal keeps his action very taut and not at all pedestrian. The editing is very tight and the transitions leave no questions or confusion to interrupt concentration on the action. Everything the characters do makes sense and is logically something that people in a real-life situation might do. I never found myself asking, “Why would you do something stupid like that?” as I usually do when I watch horror movies.

For startle factor, I give Antal an 8.5 on a scale of ten. The soundtrack of Vacancy is pure art and contributes dramatically to the film’s success in effectively drawing gasps from the audience. I would definitely say that this man loves his craft, excels at it, and finds joy in drawing what he wants out of everyone involved in the film, from writers to tech crew to actors.

The film does confirm (without a doubt) the fact that evil exists in people just as good does, and that senseless, meaningless violence cannot be predicted or forestalled. I must say that I found it particularly disturbing to try to justify my appreciation of a film full of senseless violence in the same week that America experienced the horror of Virginia Tech, but I would have to save that exploration for a commentary.

Vacancy is rated R for “brutal violence and terror, brief nudity and language.” Bingo, on all accounts! Please use your best judgment on allowing anyone under 18 to view this movie. I had nightmares after viewing it and will only stay in reputable motel chains for any future travel!

Courtesy of a local publicist, Kathy attended a promotional screening of Vacancy.