David and Amy Fox are a young couple on a long drive across the US on their way to visit Amy's parents. In spite of David feeling tired, he has continued to drive through the night and though his eyes feel heavy, he has kept going, driving on in silence as Amy sleeps beside him. However, the drive is interrupted when David sees a raccoon walking across the road that he barely avoids. Striking it, he hears a change in the sound coming from the engine of his car and drives a little further to a nearby garage. The news that he receives isn't good and though he tries to get back on the road, he makes it less than a mile before the engine dies.
Walking back to the garage, they pay to stay the night in a room at the motel next door but they're not in the room two minutes when there is a banging at the door, on the walls and in the bathroom. There is not, however, anyone there when David checks. As the sound dies away, David looks through the videotapes beside the television and puts one on. Watching it, he and Amy can't believe what's on it - videotaped footage of a couple of masked men breaking into a hotel room and killing the couple staying there. The three or four other tapes are the same. Then David notices that the hotel room on the videotapes is the same as the one they're staying in. Looking into the air vents, they see the lens of a video camera. Outside the window, a man in an boiler suit and mask looks back in at them.
Vacancy offers a very traditional tale of horror, one that, were it not the snuff videos, might even owe something to Hitchcock. The story begins quietly and does much to draw the viewer into the lives of David and Amy Fox. She is sleeping, he's tired and obviously sulking and the film, in the snippy dialogue that follows, makes clear that there was an indiscretion on her part. David and Amy bicker in the car, fight in the garage and argue whilst they walk all the way back to the motel, the only sign of there being anything to like about this pair comes when she is given a sparkler to hold. The smile on Kate Beckinsale reveals this to be a very simply pleasure and the only one that she'll enjoy over this trip, one that she thinks will end with her telling her parents that her marriage is over.
So far, so much the stuff of any writing course, which will produce scripts by the dozen in which a couple who begin the film by barely being able to look at one another will, by its end, depend on each other to get out alive. Where Vacancy works is not, therefore, in its writing. The relationship between David and Amy is neither believable nor unusual in the movies. The bad guys are masked sadists. In the hands of another director, this would have been the kind of movie that would have been included in a two-for-one deal with something a lot more spectacular. Instead, director Nimród Antal lets this opening go without paying very much attention to it, even to making it ordinary. Much better comes when he gets David and Amy into their motel room and leaves a box of snuff videos with them. Again, nothing startling there from a dramatic point of view but Luke Wilson does very well to act his way from a look that wonders if what he's watching is real to one that, just before he hears the first knock on the door, has him realise the room he's in was the location for multiple murders. It's the little details that he gets right, that little pulling back of his head all the better to take in what's he watching or the look down at the carpet to check for bloodstains.
Within minutes, there is a frantic knocking at the door. While Amy tells David to leave it alone, his reaction goes from a polite, "Hey...it's a little late for all this!" to a what-the-fuck-is-this? around the walls, the parking lot outside and, to the audience alone, a masked figure standing behind him. Thereafter, Vacancy offers less jumps and obvious scares and, instead, becomes a thriller that has David and Amy running, at first, from those who would hack and slash them to finally turning the tables on them. They discover a secret tunnel, the video editing suite, a hiding place in an abandoned shop and a likely way out.
Nothing happens that one couldn't predict. As with something like Hostel, in which everyone east of New Jersey and west of San Francisco is somehow tied into the Elite Hunting snuff cult, those who drift into the garage may or may not be involved and so are to be avoided. If there is a KLF-styled manual on how to write a hit thriller, one supposes that writer Mark L Smith has a well-thumbed copy of it but part of the pleasure in Vacancy is not only the modicum of suspense that it offers but in treading some well-worn routes. Identity, Psycho and Breakdown have all covered much the same ground in the past but one feels perfectly at home with Vacancy. Indeed, part of its charm is in how familiar it feels, making you all the more inclined not to put very much thought into the film and to simply enjoy the scares when they come. To do so will be to make the most of this creepy little thriller, making that hiding behind the sofa so much more enjoyable.
Nimród Antal describes his intention in the making of Vacancy as being to deliver a movie that was somewhere between Hitchcock and film noir. To match that intention, he has produced a film that is full of dark shadows, moodily-lit sets and the noise of something terrible happening offscreen. In that, Vacancy looks fine but sounds very much better with the DD5.1 soundtrack making full use of all six channels. The best moments come early in the film when the silence forces the audience to listen carefully before the audio track becomes deafening with the banging on the door, ceiling and on the walls of the rooms next door. Be it the crawl of rats in the sewers, the scraping of knives along windows or the stabbing of a victim of the snuff movie gang, Vacancy is always great fun to listen to. However, aside from that, it's a fairly decent presentation. Sometimes it doesn't look any better than a direct-to-DVD affair - the cheap motel setting and the casting of Frank Whaley doesn't help - but the picture always looks clean, the shadows look fine and the DVD transfer is untroubled by any of the action in the film.
Alternate Opening (1m14s): Beginning at the motel and a crowd of paramedics, police and FBI agents, this, had it been included in the film, would have seen the film playing out as a flashback. Considering what Vacancy would have been like had this been included in the theatrical version, the decision not to include it in the final cut was a wise one.
Checking In: The Cast and Crew (20m47s): Be sure to watch this after the main feature as it gives away much about the twists and turns in the film. Otherwise, though, it's a fairly typical look behind-the-scenes at the making of Vacancy and what the small cast bring to their characters, albeit there being only four actors who make it through the film. However, this doesn't stay with the cast for long as it creeps into making-of territory with the building of the motel on a sound stage - a very convincing one, as it happens, as it never looks like an internal shoot - and the filming of Vacancy on location and at the Sony Studio.
Extended Snuff Films (8m27s): Along with the breaking down of David and Amy's car, the encounter at the petrol station and how odd Mason is in settling for a room for the night, the snuff movies that David films in his hotel room make for an unsettling first half-hour. Watching them without his reaction to realising that they were filmed in the same room in which he's staying could have made these movies less effective but that's not the case with eight-and-a-half minutes of videotaped slaughter proving to be quite unsettling.
Raccoon Encounter (1m23s): David doesn't have very much luck with raccoons, as this deleted scene proves. Not only is the engine in his car ruined by a raccoon but one creeps out of the woods to scare him once again in this short, comic scene.
Finally, there are Trailers for Spider-Man 3, Walking Tall: Lone Justice and Pumpinhead 4: Blood Feud.