Monday, April 23, 2007

2007 Continues To Surprise: Vacancy

Late last year I was asked by an online journal to submit my ten favorite films of 2006. It was only after sitting down to do it that I realized that I couldn't come up with even five films that I would deem good enough to put on such a list. 2006 was one of the worst years in America cinema history, in my eyes, with only a handful of films (THE DEPARTED and CASINO ROYALE being among them) achieving great or near great status. I thought it was certainly the worst year for American cinema since the lowest point in the mid eighties.
It has been a great surprise to see the first four months of 2007 already shredding the memory of last year to pieces. In what is usual the worst time of year for film we have had in theaters a variety of quality and interesting films. ZODIAC, BLACK SNAKE MOAN, SMOKIN ACES, GRINDHOUSE and a handful of others have taken more risks and been more satisfying than all but a few of last years films. Add the just opened VACANCY to that list.
Directed by Nimrod Antal from a script by Mark L. Smith, VACANCY is an intense little mixture of PSYCHO, STRAW DOGS and DON'T LOOK NOW. While this film doesn't achieve the greatness of any of those it does play incredibly well, especially in its very intense first hour.
Starring the always great Luke Wilson and great, when she has a good role, Kate Beckinsale, VACANCY achieves a really good claustrophobic feel in its impressive use of sound and tension.
This relatively low budget film centers on a couple who have recently lost their son and are near divorce. After their car breaks down they are forced to stay in a back roads motel with a creepy proprietor. Sounds familiar of course but VACANCY really accomplishes some very confining and creepy moments and made me feel a lot more than most recent thrillers have even come close to.
As they are in nearly every shot of the film, Wilson and Beckinsale have to deliver the goods and they do so very well. Wilson, looking exhausted, is excellent but Beckinsale really shines in this film. A godd actress who has had the misfortune to be cast in some truly terrible films (the UNDERWORLD movies, VAN HELSING) here she does her best work since her underrated work in LAUREL CANYON.
The music is a bit overbearing at times and a much more minimal score would have given the film even more of a jolt. Along with Beckinsale the film's main selling point is the Bill W. Benton sound design. I had forgotten just how creepy a loud knocking at a door could sound but VACANCY uses that simple little technique to great effect continually throughout it's brisk 85 minute running time.
VACANCY does suffer in its last thirty minutes. Some major lapses in logic and a relatively week ending hamper it about but I still enjoyed the first hour enough to recommend this fine little thriller to anyone interested. I am curious if Antal had any studio interference with the ending and will look forward to any supplemental material on its dvd release.

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