It’s a brave decision to make a horror film where you really, really wish someone would just chop the heads off the protagonists early on and then film the crimson-pumping stumps for an hour or so until the credits rolled… but then don’t. Unfortunately this is the path the makers of Vacancy decided to wander down, patting at the air like a drunken blind man with a bad cold emerging from a heavy-metal concert and staggering towards a silage pit. Therefore I’m stuffing the rest of this post with spoilers whenever I feel like it because to do otherwise would be dishonest of me, as if it matters.
This educational yarn about how to repair your defunct marriage by surviving your involuntary participation in a snuff movie has little to offer anyone not already in one of those two situations… actually, it has little to offer the potential snuff-escapee either, since handsome couple Kate the Thighs Beckinsale and Luke the Jaw* Wilson don’t exactly distinguish themselves in the life-or-death (or brains) department, frequently resorting to jumping back into the frying pan on purpose when you’d think just sprinting for the tree line would offer them at least an even chance of getting out of the fire. So why didn’t they?
But to backtrack: after leaving the highway to take a midnight short cut** David and Amy Fox narrowly avoid running over a raccoon, then she says “you’ve lost us haven’t you”, then he mentions “the hurtful name that must never be mentioned”, then they argue about “when they will tell her family”, then she cuts her thumb on an apple, then the car starts to have engine trouble, and then I say “thank god they’ll soon be dead”, knowing all the while that I’m wrong because these aren’t the pre-credit psychobait I’m looking at but the heroes. Shit.
So they stop at a near-deserted garage where a helpful, nice, not killer, surely not killer, mechanic tells them where they went wrong and fixes their problem (mechanical, he’s not a marriage counsellor) and sends them on their way with a sparkler for her to wave out of the window. Really. Except he calls it a “sparky” or something. Then the car breaks down for real and after squealing about their dead kid a bit more (a detail not actually specified until they are wailing about their own deaths an hour from now, but which may as well be branded on everyone’s forehead, even the mechanic’s) they walk back to find the garage is now deserted… but not the motel next door.
As they walk into the reception, the extended screaming of a woman being tortured rings around the room. Now, I’m not a snuff aficionado, I swear, I’m not. But I suspect that if I heard someone screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming I wouldn’t mistake it for a normal movie just because the motel manager pulls a whoopsie-face and goes to turn off the video. I… would leave. I wouldn’t put up with the manager’s rural hokum and then take room four anyway, particularly not if my child-slaughtering wife was such as bloody shrew as this one, I think all the screaming would have put me off. Even before I rang the bell on the desk to attract his attention, luring him out from… the back room. But that’s just me, maybe all of you’all are eejits.
So they hole up in the cockroach infested hovel with broken cable TV but a handful of home made videos to choose from – more on that later – where she can continue being a bitch and he can be-mourn his testicular absence, prior to a few minutes of unexpected entertainment. Because the sudden heavy banging on the outer door, then the banging on the connecting door from room three, actually is quite oppressive. We’ve all been there, contemplating spousal murder in a rented room only to have the illusion of privacy invaded. So the Jaw goes to get the manager on the case, leaving the Thighs to look after themselves for a bit, only to discover that they are the only guests at the moment… but the manager agrees to go for a look around, with one of the six-shooters he keeps over the door to his… back room.
Then the Jaw goes back to his room and tries to ignore the white noise perpetually leaking out of the Thighs by turning on the TV. What shall we watch? Nothing but more white noise… or maybe a video. Here is the later about which I promised more. Because, you see, these videos turn out to be a rather gruesome collection. Rather gruesome indeed, and in deed, do you see, because, you see, and you do see, they are rather too real looking to be simply horror movies, and also seem to be a little thin on plot, and also seem to have been shot in motel room four, and – hmm. Something about all that has caught the Jaw’s attention… I wonder which bit.
And then they find the cameras, and then the knocking starts again, and then the power goes out, and then it comes back on and off and on and off and for some reason the video picks straight back up each time instead of automatically ejecting the chewed up tape, which would admittedly be less atmospheric (but not un-symbolic) than the blip-screams and flash-gores that punctuate the rest of the scene, as the Jaw and the Thighs edge towards the bathroom, just like all the video-prey seemed to keep doing, ever closer to the inevitable masked face right behind them in the dark – which just vanishes. Without killing anyone. Without even maiming anyone.
NO! I wailed (internally, lest my somewhat more edgy g/f got the wrong impression and thought I was a total wuss), Do it now! Kill them now! Don’t toy with them! Don’t let them wonder, don’t let them reconnect, don’t let them hope – butcher these annoying pests! Do it now! But no, no no no. Nothing happened. As seems to be the format, instead they did some speculating, watched the masked figures in overalls run around the car park like killer chickens, watched a truck pull up oh save us, only to discover that the driver was just popping round to collect some snuff videos from that bugger the motel manager – you can’t trust anyone these days…
What are you going to do? Well, if the snuff-makers for some reason give you enough time, you can always settle down for a spell of snuff movie watching in the hope you find some errors in the production, and then say things like “how did the masked killer get in there so quickly, what a load of old shit”, and instead of emailing your favourite web site and bleating on about how unrealistic it all is, you could go and find out how – like by using this secret passageway under the shower mat, for example. Maybe you could escape through there – if those snuff-makers gave you enough time, of course. If they liked to create a bit of atmosphere before getting down to the good snuff, I mean stuff, as I’m sure any self-respecting auteur would. They did? Great! Let’s go!
Of course, it would be an odd choice for the snuff chappies to dig a helpful passage to India or some other place of relative safety, and unsurprisingly it leads only to… the back room, where the motel manager has a large bank of monitors and a working phone line – what a liar! – but before they can make proper use of it he shows up with one of his masked friends in tow and – oh m’god, they’re in our tunnel aren’t they? Cue a chase scene in which our plucky heroes take a right turn and wind up in the garage, where they block the trapdoor even though the bad guys accidentally forget about that fork in the tunnel and no-one even tries to get in after them until after the fat cop shows up – yeah, he’s in it too. He must have nine lives this guy, ‘cos he always shows up and he always gets hissel gutted before our screaming eyes.
It’s safe to say the cop’s car fails to start because that deceitful motel manager, or maybe one of his friends if he knows someone who’s handy with cars, anyway, someone tampered with its goolies or something… so it’s not quite a surprise when he lowers the bonnet – you know, my American friends, that means hood*** – and there’s a nastyman behind him with a machete, and everyone (in the film at least) screams and the Jaw and the Thighs jump out and run back into room four… well, that was an odd decision anyway… and so was leaving behind the shotgun the cop had stashed by the back seat…
It’s all starting to blur together a bit now, but while all this has been going on the Jaw and the Thighs have started to rebuild some personal bridges, regain some trust, and so when the Jaw tells the Thighs to hide in the ceiling space and zip her word hole (I realise my image system just came unscrewed there – oops, and there) until he comes back with help she actually does it without considering him a half-man. Unfortunately one of the masked wonders unzips him before he gets two feet out of the door and leaves him in a big angular heap on the porch. The Thighs manage to keep the crying to a quiet minimum while the manager lurks about below, and then the next day she comes down and makes a break for it.
Of course all three of them are still waiting for her to make her move, but because she has learned to talk about killing her daughter now she is also able to dispatch them with maximum ruthlessness, including death by front bumper, death by sun roof, and death by pistolero for the manager, who does a pretty good job of beating the shit out of her, but obviously not good enough. So with everyone dead the Thighs successfully call for help on the newly replugged in phone, proving conclusively that the third time is the charm, and then goes to have a good cry next to dustifying remains of the broken Jaw.
The big fucking surprise is that he’s not dead either. Bastards.
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* I Googled “Kate Beckinsale’s Thighs” to find her picture. Then I tried “Luke Wilson’s Jaw” and decided not to continue the process. It’s up to you if you want to know why.
** Yes, that old chestnut; the only vaguely fresh step Vacancy takes is not bothering to show us the bit when impatient hubby spins the wheel and strikes out towards bloody fate…
*** Don’t Google “hood” or “bonnet” unless you are very broad-minded.