Horror review: Vacancy

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, APRIL 25, 2007

Vacancy is an effective horror flick on a few levels. It preys on your fear of getting hopelessly lost in the middle of nowhere, and it preys on your fear of being waylaid by murderous strangers.

But mostly it preys on your fear of getting stuck on an extended road trip with a bickering mate.

David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) are a cranky California couple on the outs, returning from a family gathering neither of them wanted to attend. David made the bad call of leaving the interstate, and Amy awakens from a three-hour snooze to give him hell for getting them lost. He nearly crashes the car after swerving to avoid a raccoon, and the close call results in an ominous engine noise that doesn’t bode well for their travels (or Amy’s attitude). When they stop at a rundown gas station to get the vehicle checked out, a suspicious hick fiddles under the hood, and you know what that means: they won’t be getting far on those wheels.

When the car conks out and they’re forced to spend the night in a scuzzy motel run by an unfriendly geek (Frank Whaley), David’s boredom leads him to sample the unlabelled VHS tapes piled atop their cheap in-room TV. At first the grimy images of screaming victims being stabbed to death are mistaken for cheapo slasher flicks, but on closer inspection the horrified couple discovers that the setting for the murders is their own motel room. They’ve stumbled into a backwood snuff-film factory, and they’re the stars of the next production.

Once the fight-for-their-lives plot kicks in, unfortunately named director Nimrod Antal keeps the action intense and well paced. Most gripping is the scene where the terrified Foxes scurry around on all fours in rat-infested tunnels, pursued by knife-wielding maniacs wearing masks and overalls.

It’s hard to believe that the innocent duo would stand a hope in hell against these Jason Voorhees wannabes–especially considering the immense library of snuff films the killers have already compiled–but you’ll root for them anyway, partly because you know they’ve already been through hell, having lost a child in a tragic accident.

You’ll also find yourself tempted to stand up and holler “Oh come on!” at one of the most unforgivable cop-out endings in horror history.

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