Sunday, July 27, 2008


When their car breaks down on a lonely road, a couple on the verge of a divorce finds a room in a motel from hell. That brief does gross injustice to Nimród Antal's Hollywood début Vacancy. The wonderful opening and closing credits echo the work of the legendary Saul Bass, whose credits include the titles for Hitchcock's Pyscho, the film that established the evil motel as a classic trope.

Despite being faced with making a genre piece that treads familiar ground, Antal chooses to tackle the material with intelligence, patience and respect. Frames are imbued with a sense of dread, no thanks in part to Andrzej Sekula's cinematography and Paul Haslinger's score. The aspect of selling terror and fear exists not only in the film's genre but also in its disturbing sub-plot involving a snuff film ring. Antal stays away from stuffing the film with standard elements of shocking gore and flash-cut torture porn; he instead allows our minds to make the scary moments even more frightening. The characters that pepper the film, including our leads, exist instead of merely showing up as familiar props. The film's end offers another surprise for those used to having their terror flicks topped with a twist ending, a sequel-friendly switcheroo or a segue into expository calm. It only comes as fine dessert for a fine main course. This is a film that respects its genre and its audience and that's saying a lot in the present climate of Saw and Hostel wannabes.
PS: In its infinite wisdom, Hollywood has found a way to feed a franchise. A sequel, written by Mark L. Smith, the writer of this film, is in the works. It's direct-to-DVD, though.

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