Directed by Nimród Antal
The premise is more than a little chilling. Your car breaks down on a dark road. Your navigator passed out 3 hours ago, which doesn't make much of a difference anyway since neither of you are brilliant with a map. With no visible road signs, you could be anywhere. Of course, your cell phone gets zero bars. You trudge down the road, your feet feeling as if there are sandbags tied to them, when you see lights ahead. Your oasis is a flea-infested, roach-inhabited roadside motel, but it's your only option for some semblance of comfort until morning. As you settle in, your short attention span turns you toward the TV, which gets no reception. No American Idol for you tonight! You grab an unmarked tape from beside the television and pop it in. What plays before you is more than a little bizarre. Reality TV? Things get a little too real as you realize the screaming people defending themselves from attackers on this tape are flailing around a room identical to yours. The sudden, violent banging against your motel door acts like a backhand across your face. This is no joke. Any minute men are going to come through that door and end your life and somewhere … some sick individual is watching it.
Sounds creepy, eh? It's a solid idea until you do the math. You've now got almost two hours to keep your characters alive and, if you are actually trying to make an effective horror film, scare the crap out of the cheerleaders in the audience at the same time. The primary problem is that motel room … it is, oh, so small. The director has to suck you in and pin you down alongside the main characters so that their peril becomes palpable.
After a lengthy setup with volumes of bickering, Amy (Beckinsale) and David Fox (Wilson) show up at the seedy motel run by a twitchy little man named Mason (Whaley). Some vaguely touched upon tragedy is forcing our couple apart, causing Amy to throw a frowny face at anything David has to say … on any subject … ever. This hardly makes her sympathetic. David does his best to answer with a bit of comic relief, giving the opening moments of this film an almost black comedic feel. Mason's first anal retentive moments add to this, and the overall effect is, no doubt, meant to lull you into that false sense of security before the inevitable terror we've already seen in countless commercials that gave away the entire plot.
The bomb drops when David begins to watch the tapes left for them and realizes the horrifying acts are happening in the very room they checked into. All notions of this being some sick joke are dashed as David finds the hidden cameras, in operation, already recording his every movement. At this moment you become engrossed in the possibilities. Any second now the door could burst open and the ugly motel rugs will be tainted with blood and viscera. It seems the baddies would have the deck stacked in their favor and enact a little mental torture on their victims before pouring out of secret entry points in the room. I am pulled into the Foxes' plight … and then released. Pulled in again … and let go. The sensation is short-lived and, I'd estimate, only happened twice. It seems that while the script, coupled with some quality acting from Beckinsale and Wilson, allows for moments of genuine apprehension, they don't know what to do with you after they've grabbed you!
Beckinsale cowers and quivers. Wilson puts on a brave face while swinging his head wildly in the direction of any stray sound. And all of it is wasted as NOTHING is happening. It also doesn't help that the bad guys in our story are barely featured. You've got Ethan Embry as the Mechanic, who gets maybe 10 minutes screen time total, leaving you with evil Frank Whaley who stumbles about, rubs his eyes as if he wants to pluck them out, and makes his "surprised" face in just about every scene. It's hard to tell if his character contained all those ticks or if he developed the character himself, and honestly you won't care. The end result is an unlikable bad guy you can't even hate. I'm reminded of a young Dick Ritchie from True Romance yelling in his dim voice "Get 'im!!" It's funny … but not funny ha ha. I'm not buying it at all.
With no particular shooting style to raise your anxiety level, few places for our heroes to run to, countless scenes that will have you screaming at the screen in disbelief, and killers as scary as little kids in dirty bed sheets, Vacancy sputters, coughs, and falls flat. The password is: ill-conceived. This is another film where you can count the moments you COULD have been scared on both hands. Even novice horror movie watchers will be able to point out the gaping holes in the action. This is not to say I was looking for an award-winning story. It's just that if you are making a movie and calling it horror, have some respect for the intellect of your audience. Just because we love gore doesn't mean we won't notice all the spots where you left your Hero and Heroine completely vulnerable … and nothing happened to them. It's not like they even tried to distract us with gore!! That would be a perfect segue into my next question. Why did this movie get an R rating?! With barely a body exposed and three drops of blood thrown here and there, it seems like a complete waste. Welcome to a movie centered on snuff films where you don't actually see anyone get snuffed closer than 20 feet away. Superior actors could not save this poorly written, hollow movie. Those of you who were looking forward to a gritty, blood-soaked Friday night … keep looking.
2 out of 5
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