R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Nimrod Antal
scr Mark L Smith
with Kate Beckinsale, Luke Wilson, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry, Scott G Anderson, David Doty, Mark Casella, Norm Compton, Caryn Mower, Meegan Godfrey, Kym Stys, Andrew Fiscella
release USA 20.Apr.07,
UK 15.Jun.07
07/US Screen Gems 1h25
Exit stage left: Beckinsale and Wilson

beckinsale wilson whaley

Vacancy Kicking off with a terrific Hitchcock-like vibe and a playful use of horror cliches ("We should have never left the interstate"), this thriller starts well but never goes anywhere with its grisly set-up.

Amy and David (Beckinsale and Wilson) are a strained couple lost on a country road in the middle of the night, when car trouble makes them pull over in a tiny village for help. A mechanic (Embry) tries to fix the problem, but they end up on the doorstep of a ramshackle hotel. The manager (Whaley) puts them in the honeymoon suite, which is not only filthy, but is stocked with videotapes of people being murdered right in the room. Soon Amy and David are fighting for their lives. And starring in their own snuff film.

The best thing about the script is the relationship between Amy and David--their marriage is on the rocks, and they must come together to survive. Everything else is a swirl of well-worn movie tricks, from the atmospheric scene-setting to the masked villains. Worst of all, there's no actual suspense. Once the action gets underway, the film is a frantic sequence of running, screaming, hiding and plotting. Baddies leap out of corners or lurk in shadows, but strangely never seem very menacing.

Beckinsale and Wilson are fine, although there's not much they can do with these astonishingly dim characters. The grief that has driven them to bitterness and anger is about as simplistic as it can be, and they make one lame decision after another in their efforts to escape from the clutches of these evil moviemakers. Whaley has more fun with his character--a bundle of twitches and insinuating glances, like Norman Bates after far too much coffee.

Director Antal (Kontroll) definitely has a strong visual sense, keeping his characters in claustrophobic situations and avoiding the temptation to make the film any bigger than it needs to be. But Smith's script never finds anything interesting in the premise, settling for cheap thrills (like rats or car crashes) just when the story is crying out for something inventive. Call it snuff fluff.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, gore 9.May.07

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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall