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</script></div>{/googleAds}We've all stayed in one before. The run-down, sleazy fleabag motel with more roaches than a Cheech and Chong movie but with so few cars in the parking lot, we wonder how such a place could possibly stay in business. Perhaps these motels have an alternate source of income. Take The Pinewood Motel featured in Vacancy, for instance, that apparently subsidizes its rack rates by making illegal snuff films that feature its guests. We all know and reluctantly recognize the unsavory things that happen in these places, but we never realized it got that seedy!

After their car breaks down along a deserted hiway, weary travelers Amy (Kate Beckinsale) and David (Luke Wilson) check in and are surprised to be given the Honeymoon suite at the regular rate, only to discover they're the next helpless victims of a devious scheme to fulfill the viewing habits of perverted videophiles. Seems that once they enter their room and pop an unmarked videotape into the VCR, they notice the video depicts a horrifically realistic murder. And they also recognize the room on the tape as the one in which they are staying. Cue scary music.

Though not necessarily an original premise couple checks into a motel from hell - the way it's handled by Hungarian director Nimrod Antal, coupled with a few twists and turns by screenwriter Mark L. Smith, make Vacancy a pleasantly frightening little tale that'll make your skin crawl and the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up. Its terror comes from interesting characters and psychology rather than action and gore. I remember feeling equally satisfied after watching Wes Craven's 2005 thriller Red Eye, knowing that sometimes the most frightening experiences are the ones that are the most simple. Whiz-bang special effects and budget-busting action sequences aren't always necessary. Well-written characters that we care about and a streamlined, fast-paced plot can often go a long way towards glossing over any implausibilities and inadequacies. And that describes Vacancy perfectly. Smith follows Alfred Hitchcock's lead in a similar setting by taking the time to introduce us to the characters before eventually ramping up the suspense later on in the film.

A couple things come together quite nicely in Vacancy to make it seem frighteningly realistic - as if it could happen to any of us. One is the motel itself. Although a fictional motel constructed from scratch on Soundstage 15, where The Wizard of Oz and Spider-Man were filmed, The Pinewood Motel is exactly like any of the old Route 66 motels strewn about the Southwest. The ones with the lonely desk clerk (in this case, played by Frank Whaley) and the shag-carpeted bar walls that are so familiar to us all. Except the Pinewood has one added feature that allows for unfettered access from front desk to suites. Secondly, the victims are not some superhuman heroes clad in mask and cape. On the contrary, Amy and David are just like you and me. Our car could break down just like theirs and we could very easily find ourselves in a similarly defenseless situation. We've all heard strange knocks on the walls, and we've all often wondered just what is actually on the other side of that little interior door that opens to the adjacent room. Vacancy takes what's familiar and turns it against us. We find no comfort in the commonplace. And that's what's fun here.

Not to say that Vacancy is brilliant horror that rivals Hitchcock's best, nor to imply that it is necessarily 100% believable and without faults quite the opposite. But in a cinematic landscape littered with too many iterations of Saw and any of the other torture-horrors out there, it's nice to see someone draw from knowledge gained in the school of "less is more." That practice doesn't always work and sometimes we actually want more. But in Vacancy it works just fine.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 presentation

Subtitles: English; French

Language and Sound: Closed Captioned; English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; deleted scenes; alternate opening sequence.

* Featurette
o Behind The Scenes: Checking In
* Deleted Scenes
o Several deleted scenes that didn't make the final cut as well as an alternate ending.
* Trailers and previews

Number of discs: - 1 with Keepcase Packaging