The press booklet for Vacancy describes the main antagonist as a "criminal mastermind," which is not quite the label I'd assign him. A Norman Bates clone played by a decidedly middle-aged Frank Whaley -- trapped in Target with Jennifer Connelly was a long, long time ago -- his master plan seems to be running the front desk of his ramshackle motel while operating a high-risk side business producing VHS torture-porn. With the garage mechanic next door in cahoots, unlucky travelers think they are making a momentary pit stop but end up with mysterious car trouble that leaves them no alternative but to check into a room at the fleapit Hilton. Once inside, it quickly becomes obvious that the room is in fact a makeshift film studio, with cameras jutting out of every corner and a small library of videotapes cluttered around the television, so that the occupants are free to see what's coming next. According to the tapes, what's coming next is forced room invasion, followed by topless wailing, rape on the floor, garroting, knifing and lots of screaming.

Here's why I say its high-risk for the criminals: You've probably assumed, without being told, that once inside the room the victims are locked in, but quite the opposite. They are not only free to enter and leave the room, but the would-be torturers actually take the time to do an extended riff on the 'knock on the door and run away' game before they commit to busting in and getting down to business. This is the part of Vacancy that I found odd to the point of distraction. Let's say that it's you in that motel, instead of Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale, and instead of free HBO on the television, you see camcorder guttings that were clearly filmed in the room you're standing in at that moment. What would possibly compel you to not run for your life, even if down a deserted nighttime road? Eventually, you gotta believe some victim of this long-running scheme is gonna come charging out of that room like an NFL running back, outflank his captors, and jog to freedom.