Don’t stay at the motel! The lodging facilities in Vacancy, which double as a low-budget snuff-film factory using unfortunate travelers as fresh meat, are clearly not AAA-approved, and the “cleaning crew” is a gang of small-time thugs who aim to butcher you on video. When bickering Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson, a married couple waiting out the paperwork on their divorce, exit the interstate and break down at the side of the road, they end up with top billing in the next torture-porn fest coming out of the Pinewood Motel. Director Nimrod Antal directs at a suitably nerve-jangling pace, leaving plenty of room in the early scenes for audience members to shout ineffectually at the screen, beseeching the dopey twosome to get the $%#& out of there already, and then turning the screws in the final reels so that the movie feels like wall-to-wall action. What doesn’t work is the combination of seedy exploitation with Hollywood slickness — the idea that casting name actors like Beckinsale and Wilson in a movie about adversity bringing an emotionally estranged couple back together makes a nasty horror movie somehow life-affirming. It’s not a terrible film, but it has the whiff of cynicism about it. C+
Zodiac is a film to lose yourself in. Directed by David Fincher with a perfectionist’s eye for performance and an obsessive’s attention to detail, it’s also the director’s first film that’s primarily about people, instead of its own impressive ideas. That’s not to diminish the impressive accomplishments he’s made to date, especially in the modern classics Se7en and Fight Club, but to underscore how Zodiac intensifies and deepens the connection between technical facility and sublime impact.
Tom Tykwer is not a favorite — I liked Run Lola Run well enough on a single viewing, but watching it a second time was an exercise in diminishing returns, and I had little use for The Princess and the Warrior. So I had written this project off long ago, despite the fact that the novel by Patrick Süskind is among my very favorite books. What a surprise, then, in the opening reel. The Dogville-inspired flashbacks characterized by the (re)use of John Hurt as a sardonic narrator were a little disorienting, but what was up on screen was a rich and putrid vision of 18th Century France, resplendent in colorful detail and redolent with the kind of grunge you’d expect to see slathered across the set dressing in a Monty Python movie. You could almost — yes — smell it.
An upper middle class family — mother, father, young son, and dog — travel to their country home, boat in tow. Soon after they arrive, their household is invaded by a pair of young men in tennis whites who hold them hostage and torture and degrade them, both physically and psychologically. Relentless in its vision of brutality, the film questions the sanity and sensibility of the audience that pays to sit through such a display of human crudity and baseness.