Released in 2007, Vacancy tells the story of a married couple, David (Luke Wilson) and Amy (Kate Beckinsale), who end up having to spend the night in a less than salubrious motel after a problem with their car. They're not getting on too well so they're less than thrilled, but they've soon got bigger things to worry about when they realise the motel is being used to stage snuff movies, as the guests are done away with and the videos sold on. It's as if Norman Bates decided to branch out in the early days of VHS.
I think some people stayed away from Vacancy, worrying that it would veer into torture porn territory. I must admit, I was expected a Saw-style plot when I first saw the trailer. It would have been easy for the makers to fall into that trap, particularly when you consider the release of The Strangers the following year, a virtual remake of Them (2006), in which a couple are terrorised at home. Perhaps people were put off by the inevitable comparisons to Psycho. Instead, the film is a taut little thriller, weighing in at just 85mins, that deals more with the conflict between the couple and their antagonists than it does the previous acts committed in the motel.
We've got a long-running tradition at Castle Sedgwick that my mother will start watching a film, and if it's tense enough, she'll exclaim part way through that she wishes she'd never started watching it - when you hear that, you know they've gotten the suspense right. Naturally, as I've brought it up, she uttered those words while watching Vacancy - and it's not surprising. Unlike some thrillers, that plod along on their way to a predictable conclusion, mistaking melodrama for suspense, Vacancy actually generates suspense - and maintains it. Its short running time makes it easy for them to sustain their pace, and makes it an enjoyable watch.
Normally I'd get annoyed at a film that tried to copy Hitchcock's style but Vacancy manages it very well, and I think it's helped in part by the fact that David and Amy begin as a troubled couple, but grow in stature into more capable adults who don't just flail around screaming. They're my type of people, in other words. I was really impressed by this film and if you like compact little thrillers, you might be too!