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Shameful Vacancy Earns Timely Condemnation

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • 2007 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
Shameful <i>Vacancy</i> Earns Timely Condemnation

DVD Release Date:  August 14, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  April 20, 2007
Rating:  R (for brutal violence and terror, brief nudity and language)
Genre:  Horror
Run Time:  85 min.
Director:  Nimrod Antal
Actors:  Kate Beckinsale, Luke Wilson, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry, David Doty, Scott G. Anderson

The toxic film Vacancy takes its place within the new genre known as “torture porn” – films like Hostel and Saw, in which the most gruesome forms of human misery are depicted for entertainment.

Religious press reviews of those movies are sometimes few and far between. What possible good can come from such grisly spectacles? Perhaps the films are stylish or formally innovative, but they wear their excesses on their sleeves. They sell exploitation and sleaze. In short, they are, like sexually pornographic films, beyond the pale, and unworthy of viewers’ time – especially viewers with Christian convictions. (In fairness, it should be noted that The Passion of the Christ has been lumped in with these movies by some mainstream critics, but religious critics have made a strong case in favor of Mel Gibson’s film.)

Religious film criticism has exploded in recent years, moving beyond the quick condemnation of Hollywood product that characterized so much of the field in earlier decades. These gains in how people of faith evaluate films are largely to be applauded, and Christians have begun to penetrate the broader cultural dialogue. This has made it less easy for cultural elites to easily dismiss Christian viewpoints (although such dismissals are still far too common).

With the cultural gains, however, comes an enticement for Christians to avoid condemnation when it’s earned. This new genre of “torture porn” certainly qualifies. If Christian critics don’t point that out, who will?

This past week, a horrible tragedy has, in a strangely unexpected way, opened the door for Christian critics to state what’s blindingly obvious: That some films are bad for the soul. Not just for Christians, but for everyone. And companies that promote these films should be held accountable.

Earlier this week, the country suffered one of the worst mass slaughters ever committed. A deranged killer took the lives of more than 30 people on the campus of Virginia Tech. Then, just two days before the opening of Vacancy, a videotape of the killer’s preparations surfaced. A media circus ensued, as NBC aired portions of the killer’s tirade. A backlash against the network formed quickly, and it retreated somewhat from its initial stance, limiting airplay of the killer’s screed. But the genie was out of the bottle. Images from the video were everywhere, and the culture was the worse for it.

What does this have to with Vacancy, you might be wondering? Simply this: Vacancy tells the story of two people in a remote motel room, discovering that they are being videotaped as part of a “snuff” film that will show their hideous deaths at the hands of unspeaking, seemingly unstoppable killers. Yes, that’s right: Vacancy is an “entertainment” film about psychotic killers, who film themselves and their victims. And the film’s national release is two days after the country has been exposed to an infamous videotape of a killer and his plans for mass slaughter.

Here are the rest of the plot details, if you care to know.

Amy and David Fox (Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson, both of whom need new agents) play a husband and wife on the brink of divorce. While traveling, David heads off the interstate and encounters car trouble, which forces the couple to seek shelter in a remote motel with a creepy manager (Frank Whaley).

Once inside their room, in search of something to take their minds off their seedy surroundings, the couple pops in an old VHS tape left atop the motel-room TV set. What they discover is a “snuff” film – footage of previous occupants in the same room, as they meet their doom at the hands of brutal killers.

Desperation sets in quickly. David confirms that video cameras are hiding behind the air vents, and menacing figures begin to move in on the couple. Their fates are sealed. Or are they?

The answer is irrelevant, but the film is not, for it offers a chance for a public shaming. Everyone involved in making and promoting this sinister, sick piece of work should feel something more than embarrassment. They should feel deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves.

I am not arguing for moral condemnation of all Hollywood product, nor of all “R”-rated films. I am not arguing that horror films are off-limits for Christians, or that acts of sadism should never, ever be depicted on film (I’m not sure they should be, but that’s not the thrust of my argument). Rather, I am pointing out that a movie about videotaped killings, sold as entertainment, is a revolting idea.

That the release of Vacancy should occur within days of a videotaped confession from a mass murderer presents an unlikely invitation to remind others that some films are simply shameful. And they don’t deserve our attention.

AUDIENCE:  Not appropriate for anyone.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; multiple profanities
  • Drugs/Alchohol:  Amy takes prescription anti-depressants that make her sleepy
  • Sex/Nudity:  No sex, but the snuff videos show nude women being stabbed and killed
  • Violence:  Where to begin? Multiple people are stabbed, tortured and murdered; a woman is choked; a car impales a man; a man’s mouth spurts blood
  • Marriage:  A strangely “pro-marriage” message lies underneath the piles and piles of sadistic garbage here, as the husband and wife rediscover their love – sort of – while trying to outwit their attackers; the couple’s son has died, and they blame each other before apologizing for their actions.