"Vacancy" promotes a potentially horrific premise: A couple whose marriage is disintegrating finds themselves in what is essentially the Bates Motel, where Norman is more than a voyeur. Played by Frank Whaley (here, a second rate William H. Macy), Mason the manager fashions himself as a filmmaker with his stars being unsuspecting guests in his snuff studio motel.
The couple in question is David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale). After their car breaks down in the backwoods, they take a room in Mason's Motel, where videos depict gut-wrenching murders of people in the very room in which the Foxes are staying.
That realization is the high fright moment in the film. The scenes on the videos do not have near that horror power, just schlock shocks. Less is more when suggesting the real thing.
Under the direction of Nimrod Antal ("Kontroll") from a paint-by-numbers Mark L. Smith script, "Vacancy" only has "Halloween" for its horror-film road map after the shocking set up is established. The Foxes must figure a way away from the Mason and his ghoulish henchmen, who simply want to butcher them for the ever-present video cameras in every corner.
The question is…why did Mason leave snuff videos in the "Honeymoon" execution suite? Why tip off the lambs before the slaughter? It makes about as much sense as the sheriff (David Doty) responding to the Fox's panicky 911 call without backup.
But this is Hollywood horror moviemaking, where reality plays a very small part…especially in the snuff scenes, thank God.
"Vacancy" is definitely one to wait for on DVD. Or, better yet, don't wait at all. Rent Alfred Hitchcock's motel hell classic, "Psycho"…and see the real thing.