Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson star in Vacancy, a surprisingly effective horror-thriller that doesn't have much gore but offers nearly non-stop excitement from beginning to end. The only downside: the last minute of the film is so bad it damages everything that preceded it.
Vacancy follows Beckinsale and Wilson as a married couple on the verge of divorce. Through wonderfully wicked and witty writing, we see just how bitchy Beckinsale is, and just how fed up with her Wilson is. However, after their car breaks down on a deserted mountain highway, they make their way to a crumby hotel for the night, and it is here they find that they are at the center of a massive trap where their every movement and conversation are recorded, and that the hotel owner will do everything in his power to frighten them until he decides to kill them. Many have died before, but will this latest couple by next?
Vacancy sets itself apart from other recent horror thrillers in many way. The cast doesn't consist of a bunch of careless college kids. There isn't much gore. Director Nimród Antal borrows from Hitchockian influences. Most importantly, it isn't cheesy and maintains a high level of tension. As soon as the scares begin, they literally do not let up for more than a few seconds until the very last scene. There are some funny moments, and both Beckinsale and Wilson (not to mention Frank Whaley, who plays the hotel manager) carry the film very well.
Vacancy is a wonderful little thriller, full of excitement, frights action and good old, traditional horror. It doesn't rely on gore to win over the audience because it doesn't have to. In fact, this is one of the most thrilling movies I've seen in a long time. It doesn't spend much time explaining why these people are doing what they're doing, but it doesn't need to do that, either. You can figure that out on your own, and the rest is up to your imagination. Vacancy is just a fun, tension-filled thriller.
There's only one problem: the ending.
I would have easily given Vacancy an "A" rating if not for the disappointing, pathetic ending. Rarely have I seen a film so good deflate within a matter of seconds. It is such a shame, because Vacancy is a great film otherwise. Unfortunately, the ending really ruins things to some degree.
So what is so bad about the ending? I will try not to give things away, but the movie just ends so abruptly that you're left scratching your head. It feels like the studio accidentally edited out a scene from the movie. Of course, the main villain is seemingly killed, and the good guys call the police. Then the music begins. Tense, high-paced music that means something else is coming. Then the camera pans out and the ending credits roll. It is not that I needed one last scare at the end of the movie - that is oftentimes cliché and unnecessary. But everything the director does - the way the last moments are shot, the way the music is drumming away - indicates that some big twist is coming, or that there is another bad guy out there somewhere, and then he just stops the movie. Vacancy could have ended the exact same way it did, but simply used different, more relaxed music, and everything would have been fine. Instead, the film teases us with something that isn't there, and for some reason, it is a huge letdown. Can I suggest alternate ending for the DVD release?
Vacancy is a great film and worth watching, but the ending is hugely disappointing. Enjoy the thriller for what it is, but realize that this could have been a classic had it concluded differently.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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