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).