“Vacancy” is the kind of movie that leaves you feeling icky all over afterward — grimy and sickened and desperately in need of a shower.
Yes, it is a horror flick and so of course it’s supposed to be violent. But the way in which it gets off on the violence — and, ostensibly, hopes the audience does the same — is especially distasteful and, frankly, misogynistic.
The movie’s premise, though, directed claustrophobically by Nimrod Antal and written by first-timer Mark L. Smith, is just downright ridiculous — a paranoid amalgamation of small-town stereotypes and urban legends.
Bickering husband and wife David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale, both showing questionable decision-making once again) take a short cut during an all-night road trip, of course, suffer car trouble, of course, and wind up at a middle-of-nowhere motel, where the only other person around is the creepy night manager (Frank Whaley). Of course.
From the sniping they do at each other during the movie’s setup, it seems the rift developed between them after an accident in which their young son died. David is vaguely more interested in reconciliation than Amy is; divorce is imminent.
But once they get into their sleazy sleeping quarters — the honeymoon suite, the bespectacled geek behind the counter informs them — they quickly figure out that they have more to worry about than dirty towels and stains on the comforter.
David and Amy soon realize that the videos left on top of the TV are graphic snuff films which were shot with hidden cameras right in their run-down room — and that if they don’t figure out a way to work together and escape, they’ll be the next victims.
Which begs the question: Why would the manager leave these videos out to tip the couple off as to what’s coming? Why not just send his mask-wearing goons to barge in on them when they’re not expecting anything and take them by surprise? It’s a plot contrivance, that’s why. We need to see what’s coming to know what we’re supposed to fear, even though it’s incredibly gratuitous in its gruesomeness.
Antal apparently isn’t interested in the idea that it’s what you don’t see — it’s what your wildest imagination can concoct — that’s more frightening. He shows us the stabbings, the stranglings, the bloody beatings, and he shows them to us over and over. Rather than leaving you scared, it just makes you feel uncomfortable.
Once David and Amy realize that they can’t sneak out through the front door or the bathroom window, there really isn’t anywhere else to go with the movie. And by that point it’s only about halfway over. They can’t call anyone because they have no cell-phone signal (of course) and the pay phone outside goes straight to the manager’s office (of course).
So you’re left to sit and wait, just like David and Amy, for the eventual attack. And afterward you feel like you’ve been dragged by the hair and beaten just as badly as she’s been — which is something else we really didn’t need to see.