Tuesday, October 02, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #6: VACANCY (2007)

The Story: Estranged married couple takes a wrong turn and ends up in a rural motel where they are hunted down like dogs.

Expectations: I rented this flick mainly on the recommendation of my friend and fellow horror geek John Muir.  He compared VACANCY favorably to another quasi-Hitchcockian thriller DISTURBIA (2007).  Were it not for John's recommendation, I probably would have stayed away because I find it hard to get enthusiastic about "wrong turn" movies.  When they work (recent examples: DEAD END, WOLF CREEK), I am reminded that it's the storyteller, not the setup, that makes all the difference.  Even so, the "wrong turn" setup is so familiar and so obvious that, for me, the story has an immediate obstacle to overcome.  I wasn't confident that a mainstream studio horror movie could overcome it.

Reaction: John rightly points out that VACANCY is at its best in the five or ten minutes after the couple first arrive in their hotel room.  For those who haven't already seen the movie, I won't spoil the surprise that sets their struggle into motion.  But I will say that, for me, it was mostly downhill from there.  The problem with this type of horror movie is that it hinges on the audience's willingness to identify with the main characters.  When the characters respond to threats of violence in a relatively passive way (they never once arm themselves with blunt objects at their disposal -- a lamp can be a powerful bludgeon -- and they keep running away from situations where they could have had a tactical advantage), I have trouble going along for the ride.  I suppose running away is the "Hitchcockian" thing to do (though I don't remember feeling frustrated when Hitchcock's characters ran), but mostly it compels me to think: "What the hell are you doing?  If you go that way, you deserve to die."

Admittedly there are a lot more offensive examples of this annoying tendency than VACANCY.   For the most part, this is a competently acted and capably directed film, so I shouldn't be too hard on it.  Let me put it this way: If you've just come off of watching a film like ALTERED or END OF THE LINE, it will seem like a minor masterpiece.  If, however, you've just finished watching an intelligent and ingenious film like PONTYPOOL or STUCK, then VACANCY will probably ring a bit hollow.  Maybe if the ending was more intense or surprising, I'd feel relatively satisfied.  But since the ending was almost laughably anti-climactic, I'm left without any strong feelings at all.  In a few days, I probably won't even remember the details of this movie... just the "wrong turn" setup.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: A few short movies-within-the-movie serve as reminders of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1990), a much more raw and powerful film.


  1. Yes, it's not a great horror film. But it's passable....that said I can't really can day Wolf Creek is much better (although many years ago it scared the crap out of a date of mine at the movie theater, so much for not picking Firewall with Harrison Ford *grumble* *grumble*). I also wished that they had studied the tapes better to have a better chance of defending myself, I read too much into the synopsis of the film that the victims were a bit smarter...at least they were smarter than the people in The Strangers (with Liv Tyler) which I hated because of the character's poor choices.

    I've yet to see Stuck, I was pushed away from seeing it since I know the Blu-ray has all the extras and the DVD is just vanilla. I'm sort of a fan of his, from his Lovecraft works and just now I was watching Edmond. I also have to watch Henry by some time and I've known about this movie for a long time.

  2. Josef - You've made me curious to watch WOLF CREEK again. I think you're probably right that the characters aren't much smarter. Oddly, what I remember about WOLF CREEK is not plot points, but just how visceral it was... they certainly didn't hold back on the gore. I suppose the fact that I have only a vague memory of the story should tell me something...

  3. Well, Wolf Creek is good, but not great. I have to say it was a bit surprising how things turned out by the end. We think we're seeing the rise of a heroine but doesn't go that way. I don't remember if their choices were really dumb, have only seen it that one time in the theater when it came out. In the end, there's nothing that does really make it stand out from other films...other than..."this is a knife".