Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Breaking Down: Vacancy

There is a lot of talk surrounding the production of Robert Rodriguez' upcoming Predators reboot/remake/re imagining/reincarnation/reload/refresh/requel. A big portion of which is about his decision to put the film in the hands of director Nimrod Antal (Kontroll), and there is no shortage of opinions about him all over the internet. Vacancy is Nimrod's horror directional debut, and may provide some insight into what we can expect from him. Written by Mark L. Smith, the screenplay is for the most part neither exceptional nor terrible. The script is essentially a voyeuristic B-movie wrong-turn scenario set in a creepy motel, a classic genre setting. While on the surface it might appear to be another torture porn movie, but unlike recent movies before it such as Hostel and Saw, it actually is supposed to turn the audience off the violence instead of get off on it. Smith made sure to write characters we empathise for instead of cheering at their every squirm. The scene in which Luke Wilson's character, David, shockingly looks into the t.v. straight at us, the audience, was written in the script specifically to emphasize the double-sided mirror aspect. Unfortunately, the first 2/3 of the film are much stronger than the third act, and the script as a whole is nothing special, however, what Antal does with it at times is nothing short of brilliant.

The opening sequence in the car is probably the strongest of Antal's career. His use of framing in isolated shots to show the character's disconnection from one another is pure art. Coupled with constricting rear-view mirror images, he really adds to the bickering dialogue and is a great example of how a director can utilize the visual advantages the medium of film can offer over novels. There is a claustrophobic feel to this sequence that returns through out the course of the movie. The basic synopsis of the story is a couple, David and Amy, are on the verge of a divorce as they are having trouble coping together after the loss of their son. Their car breaks down suspiciously soon after a well mannered gas station attendant gives a reluctant to ask David directions, and checks under the hood for the cause of a noise the car has been making after a close encounter with a raccoon. Staying with each other in the car for another minute, let alone long enough for another car to come along willing to help is out of the question, so they decide to trek back on foot to a motel they saw straight out of Hitchcock's twisted imagination. After hesitantly buying a room for the night from the motel's sole employee Mason, played to perfection by Frank Whaley, David and Amy soon realize they are about to be the next unwilling stars of a murderous game caught on candid camera.


Antal utilizes hidden cameras as a storytelling device to great effect. These wide angle shots add a creepy realism, and actually become a large part of the plot when David and Amy ( mostly David ) use them to their advantage. Where Hitchcock had Norman Bates peering through the peephole, Antal has Mason spying from the hidden cameras. It's obvious that The Master of Suspense was an inspiration, as the tension will have you clenching on more than a few occasions. As I mentioned earlier, the theme of claustrophobia comes into play through out. Culminating in a sequence underground in a rat infested tunnel beneath the motel. Antal knows what makes us squirm, and he seems to take pleasure in doing so. If you wish to dig a little deeper into the psychology of the film, there seems to be some commentary on how to heal a wounded relationship. As goofy as it may seem that the notion of this holds any weight in a film like this, it was still nice to see that it had something to say regardless of the validity. Vacancy turns from genuinely tense and chilling to slightly non-sensible and far-fetched in the last act, but not enough so that it dissolves the effectiveness of the first two. The ending also left me with mixed feelings about bringing a certain character back to life. Even as the film veers into the direction it does in the final third, the thrills are still there. So although a bit on the Silly side, it is at least skillfully-silly.

Acting wise, leads Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale are satisfying as a struggling couple at the end of their relationship rope. I had a chance to talk to one of the cam ops of Vacancy during a commercial shoot we were both working last year, and a little fun fact for everyone is he told me that Wilson and KBecks absolutely could not stand each other during production. I couldn't help but think how easy it must have been for them to do the first half of the movie. Beckinsale is intentionally not her glamorous self here, and I actually really liked her. Obviously neither Wilson nor Beckinsale took these roles thinking Oscar gold was going to come from it, but both put in a serviceable enough effort. Wilson was even slightly endearing here as a guy obviously still in love with his woman and willing to do whatever it takes to protect her. Frank Whaley really steals the show acting wise, and makes the most of every scene that features him on screen. As the sly mousey Mason, equally creepy as the roach infested motel he manages.



The bottom line here is that this is Antal's show the whole time. He makes the most of every scene, and elevates the tension far above the level of the script. And isn't that, after all, what a good director does? Make a movie better than it has any right to be. There is never a dull moment, and it runs at a perfect length at 80mins. If there is one thing I want any reader to get out of this blog is that you may not have heard of Vacancy, and you may have even heard it's bad news. But if you like horror movies that bring a fresh style, give this one a shot. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was. The fact that a straight to DVD prequel was released at least proves the first was somewhat successful.

What does this all mean for Predators? At this point it's just too early to tell, but if the teaser trailer is an indication of the final product than it definitely looks as if it's in the right hands. Something I couldn't say about the last two installments in the franchise.


Vacancy is available on Blu-ray and DVD.


Score:
  • Story: 6.9
  • Sound: 8.4
  • Music: 8
  • Editing: 8
  • Effects: 7.8
  • Cinematography: 8.1
  • Acting: 8
  • Direction: 9.5
  • Overall (not an average): 8.2

5 comments:

Mike said...

I agree with everything you say. I actually love this movie. Not the greatest, but I remember leaving it having had fun and in good suspense thats how you should feel when its over.

Uranium Willy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Uranium Willy said...

I liked this one too. I did not care much for the sequel and how it tried to explain how the 'snuffers' all got started. I do not know if we needed to knwo that really. Good film and good review. Here is my review which has a bunch of NO HOTLINKING images on it. They are actually connected to my other blog the Uranium Cafe were the poast once resided and I am not sure why the images are blocked? Anyway, I will figure that out later.

http://necrotic-cinema.blogspot.com/2009/04/vacancy-and-maintenance-one-pretty-good.html

Uranium Willy said...

Figured ut the hotlinking glitch and the images are available.

Ah your review is much better but it is cool you and Mike above liked this film as many people trashed it a little more than was necessary.

Anonymous said...

Live in Brazil , watch the film "Vacancy" in July for 2010 , I loved the film "Vacancy",miss for 2010...