Is there something more American than staying at a shady motel in the middle of nowhere after a long drive? It’s not something you want to do but tired and out of options, you just have to. Vacancy is a suspenseful thriller about a young couple who do just that, stay in a shady motel in the middle of nowhere. And it doesn’t take long for things to spiral out of control. Pretty standard-issue stuff, you might say but this movie has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. First of all, there’s no boring character development or dull filler scenes.
From the very first minute, the atmosphere feels ominous and tense. Secondly, the pacing is great and something always seems to be happening. It would appear that the filmmakers knew both the story and the characters were generic so they had to work hard on all the other aspects of the movie. Vacancy is one of those thrillers you can watch anytime. And since the running time is just eighty minutes, you’ll surely finish it in one sitting. It pulls you into this macabre and weird universe where you’re not quite sure what’s going on. But you do have a feeling that it’s not going to end well.
Actually, the whole story for the movie came about as the writer, Mark Smith was driving in Colorado and saw all these isolated motels, without any visible guests. So, he wondered how they are breaking even. Whenever I watch these movies where killers are operating from a hotel, I can’t help but remember one of the sickest fucks that ever existed H. H. Holmes. Back in 1892, he constructed his own hotel from hell, better known as “Murder Castle” and killed at least nine guests. If you want to know more about this crazy guy, check his Wiki.
It’s not a good time for a Fox family. Amy and David suffered a family tragedy that’s slowly tearing them apart (you’re tearing me apaaarrrtttt, Lisa). On their way home, from a family reunion, they end up in a shady motel, hoping to hit the road pretty soon. However, they will soon discover that that will be quite difficult and dangerous…
Vacancy is essentially a streamlined slasher horror movie choosing an intense atmosphere instead of intense gore. It cleverly uses the generic story and characters to pose a series of “what would you do in this situation” questions. Beckinsale and Wilson were really convincing and helped bring to life these rather stereotypical characters. They made them feel more believable and their reactions seemed natural. Funnily enough, the word on the set is that Kate found it quite difficult to work with Luke since he was hungover a lot of the time.
Unfolding almost in real-time, Vacancy is also a single-location thriller. You can feel the claustrophobia setting in as the situation starts to escalate. Finally, if you’re looking for similar movies, check out 1408, Identity, and The Innkeepers. You can also check out Vacancy 2: The First Cut, a shabby prequel digging into the origins of Meadow View Inn.
Director: Nimród Antal
Writer: Mark L. Smith
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Luke Wilson, Ethan Embry, Frank Whaley
Fun Stuff: Sarah Jessica Parker was originally cast as Amy but had to drop out and was eventually replaced with Kate Beckinsale.