Vacancy 1 & 2
Vacancy (April 18/07)
While Vacancy certainly does an effective job of keeping he viewer thoroughly engaged throughout its refreshingly brisk running time, there's little doubt that the film starts to fall apart once one starts to really mull over its various plot twists in hindsight. The spare storyline - which follows Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale's bickering married couple as they find themselves trapped within the confines of an increasingly sinister motel - offers up the barest hints of character development before kicking things into high gear, yet somehow the whole thing works; director Nimrod Antal, working from Mark L. Smith's tight screenplay, has infused the proceedings with a palpable sense of dread (that the movie opens with a distinctly Hitchockian credits sequence certainly doesn't hurt). It's consequently easy enough to overlook Smith's sporadic reliance on horror movie cliches, including some unreasonably moronic decisions on the part of the two central characters (ie the couple seems to have a knack for taking precisely the wrong course of action at any given point). And although Wilson and Beckinsale are quite good here, Frank Whaley - cast as said motel's sleazy manager - immediately proves to be the film's most entertaining element (Whaley transforms his underwritten character into a figure that rivals Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates in terms of pure creepiness). Ironically, despite its various deficiencies, Vacancy is a far more effective B-movie than either of Grindhouse's two efforts and it's clear that the film achieves exactly the sort of fun, fast-paced vibe that both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino were undoubtedly going for in their own films.
Vacancy 2: The First Cut
There's little doubt that Vacancy 2: The First Cut, while not quite as effective as its predecessor, ultimately comes off as a better-than-expected direct-to-video sequel, as screenwriter Mark L. Smith generally does a nice job of stressing the kills that one might've anticipated while also exploring the origins of the infamous motel. Set months (or maybe years) before the events of the original, the movie follows the shady owner (David Moscow's Gordon) of the Meadow View Inn as he progresses from filming his guests having sex to filming their brutal deaths, with the trigger for this change an encounter with a vicious serial killer known only as Smith (Scott G. Anderson). Gordon's first opportunity to put Smith into action comes after three friends (Agnes Bruckner's Jessica, Trevor Wright's Caleb, and Arjay Smith's Tanner) check in for the night, although it's hardly a spoiler to reveal that things don't exactly go as planned. Vacancy 2: The First Cut's connection to its 2007 forebearer proves instrumental in its admittedly mild success, as the reveal behind Meadow View's salacious existence proves effective in initially capturing the viewer's interest. This is despite director Eric Bross' all-too-frequent reliance on shaky camerawork, which grows more and more intrusive as the movie progresses and the protagonists' situation worsens. It's likewise impossible to deny that the movie's momentum takes a noticeable hit as Smith and company make their nefarious intentions clear, with the majority of the second half subsequently devoted to countless sequences in which the would-be victims attempt to elude their pursuers' increasingly determined grasp. The uniformly strong performances certainly go a long way towards alleviating Vacancy 2: The First Cut's various problems, however, and it's a testament to Smith's relatively inventive script that the movie doesn't quite end the way one might've expected - with the end result an effort that should please fans of the original.