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Film Three Stars

After seeing the trailer for this I was really interested in seeing the film, it looked dark and very tense. However there were things that concerned me about it, Luke Wilson is most known for his comedy work and hadn't really tackled a role such as this, I haven't really seen Kate Beckinsale in a role that would suggest she could pull this off, and it's Nimród Antal's first English language film, which usually means the Hollywood system overpowers them.

So with all that I was keen to see how the film turned out, as I said the trailer made it look strong, so how did it turn out?

Vacancy.jpgOnce again, huge thanks to the Edinburgh Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema for helping me review these films. They're a great bunch and do know their films. It's a superb cinema...and those hotdogs!

As the story started I was surprised that the Writer and Director managed to do two things so quickly. First they built the relationship between Amy and David Fox, played by Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson respectively, superbly well. Subtly done and with sharp dialogue, glances between them and a single photo we see the relationship before our eyes without the need for the glaring Hollywood signs and pointers.

I loved the way they pulled these elements together to create the relationship, it was so simply and naturally done, and it seemed as though Wilson just eased into it without issue. I tell you what though, I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of Beckinsale in a relationship!

The story is about a couple who are traveling overnight and while the wife is asleep the husband decides to take a short cut off the main roads. While driving they narrowly avoid hitting a raccoon but at the same time damage something in the car.

Luckily they find a petrol station in the middle of nowhere, and the mechanic tells them that the car should still be able to get them to where they're headed. Unfortunately within a mile the car stalls and stops. So they head back on foot.

Thankfully there's a motel beside the petrol station, somewhere they can stay for the night until the garage opens in the morning. The manager seems incredibly strange, the motel deserted, and despite the screaming noises from the TV in his back room, they decide to take a room.

Once in the room they begin to relax and the husband finds a video player. Sticking a tape in they soon discover that the attacks on the tapes are real, and they are filmed in the very room that they're staying in.

This all happens very quickly, although not overly so, and you never feel as though you are getting too much back story and the main plot begins.

Almost as soon as the couple arrive at the motel you can feel the tension rising. Things are slightly out of place and the warning bells start to ring. Nimród Antal keeps that tension running throughout the film, it never lessens too far from the right level to keep you on edge, and at some key moments you'll find yourself on the edge of your seat.

At times the tension rises to fear, something you particularly during the initial sequences in the room while their realization grows and their own video experience begins.

For the most part the story is really well written and clichés are either well avoided or run up to and sidestepped slightly, so things are kept very real and natural. There are some clichés in the story though, luckily they don't negatively affect it.

The first few occur during the early scenes, before the couple is even at the motel. The short cut, car trouble, the lack of phone service, they were all there. Except there's one more that happens near the end of the film and I can't really talk about it without giving away the story.

This is something that seems to be picked up in a few reviews, and they say that the whole film is overly clichéd, and I think a lot of it refers to this ending in particular.

However, what I can say is if you start to feel the cliché stop yourself. Think about the real world for a moment and you'll see that perhaps this is more the real world ending you'd expect.

I'd argue that the film is not clichéd, yes there are some, but for the most part the characters make pretty real decisions and the plot turns aren't the straight line Hollywood you would expect.

Another negative aspect I've read in a national newspaper's review was that the couple work through their personal issues through the film and that's a reason it had such a bad review from them. I don't know what they're talking about. There's perhaps one scene where the couple are holding each other, scared beyond belief, and talking about what they have to try to do to get out, psyching themselves up for the attempt ahead.

That brings me to the acting. I had initially thought that Wilson was going to be awful in the film, but surprisingly he's the second best actor in it. That's not saying Wilson isn't good, in fact far from it, he gives a sterling performance. His acting is toned down, he's extremely natural and manages to convince during his scenes of terror and confusion.

Beckinsale is similarly strong, although she does take the role of the upset female for the most part. The real winner in the film though is Frank Whaley, he is simply superb and turns out a fantastic, nervous performance. There's such subtle turns to his character that show his frustration and indeed psychosis that are very well performed. For me he stole the show with Wilson surprising me most.

The ultimate ending of the film is surprising too. There are some conventions, but the standard clichés you might expect are forgotten for something a bit more real. There's also a good few surprises to be had, and one moment that is surprisingly taut.

I really enjoyed the film, and I know that many people didn't. Antal shows that the Hollywood system may have tried to convert him, but that he's kept a style and a subtlety as well as fighting back the over explanation and the blatant clichés. I think with Vacant he's done a great job and managed to illicit strong performances from his actors, especially from Wilson.

The film is also really well shot. There's never a feeling of the camera overpowering the story, and the darkness is used to good effect. There's no trick to overuse the cameras hidden in the room, the cameras are all close to the action, non intrusive and sometimes using a point of view that helps heighten the tension.

Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal Cinema
UK IMDB Film Details

Hostel: Part II
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This is another film that falls into the same category as Hostel: Part II and is the focus of all moral groups to categorise and label the film as morally wrong. To hell with them. If the film isn't a good film then it's not a good film, and I think that's hinted at with the trailer.

The Bourne Ultimatum
The usual trailer, huge amounts of shaky cam that will prove very difficult to follow. Once again this threatens to overpower the film itself, I really hope that it doesn't and that the cam is used to a minimum.

Well here's an interesting thing, I saw this trailer on the big screen, the same one that we've seen online, and I think I spotted a huge spoiler in it. I'm not going to go into it now, but it's made quite clear, and the sign is snow. That's all I'll say, and if you want to go looking for it then feel free. Still the trailer looks good and strong.

Day Watch
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Ooooh. Those very nice opening credits with text...Lovely. I was overall very happy with the film, it's a solid 3-star film, nothing more or less than it promises to be.

Andrew & I went into some length on this over at Moviepatron and the consensus was that it's a heck of a lot better than your average Studio-thriller these days with far better written characters and good use of pretty much a single large location.

Certainly worth a trip to the theatre, or the DVD rental-house.

Oh, I forgot the opening credits. They were really nice.

I had the review at a four, and I was struggling back and forth. I eventually came back to a three. Still not sure though, it was a very good film, it could well be a low four.


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