Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale check into an isolated motel but have a tough time checking in Nimrod Antal's stylish and surprisingly effective thriller.
Having fallen into a deep, antidepressant-induced sleep while on the late-night drive home from her parents' anniversary celebration, Amy Fox (Beckinsale) wakes to find that her husband, David (Wilson), has left the interstate and is wandering the back roads of Southern California. David tells her he decided to take a "short cut" on account of traffic, and almost immediately a fight breaks out. Amy gives him grief for not following the map while David insists he knows where he's going and calls her a bitch. When a clanking noise starts under the hood after David swerves to avoid a raccoon, the couple stops at a rural gas station and a friendly mechanic (Ethan Embry) assures them it's only a bent fan blade and, yes, David is headed in the wrong direction. Then their BMW breaks down. It's now 1:30 in the morning, and by the time they walk back to the service station, the mechanic has left for the night. The cheery night manager (Frank Whaley) of the adjacent Pinewood Motel — a '50s Googie structure that looks as if it was redecorated in the '70s using every shade of puke green and rust brown the decade had to offer — tells them they won't be able to get a tow truck until morning. But he'll gladly put them in the honeymoon suite at a $5 discount — ironic, considering that Amy and David are about to finalize their divorce. But within moments of settling into the grimy "suite," David and Amy realize that the accommodations are the least of their worries. They're harassed by anonymous phone calls and a loud, frantic banging on the door leading to the neighboring room — especially troubling since they're supposedly the only guests in the entire motel. Their fear turns to panic when David plays one of the unmarked videocassettes stacked on top of the VCR and discovers what appears to be a snuff movie in which frightened people are tortured and killed by a crew of masked men. That panic turns to abject terror when Amy and David realize the video was shot in the honeymoon suite, and they're about to star in a movie of their very own.
Stylishly shot by PULP FICTION cinematographer Adrezej Sekula and written by Mark L. Smith, who knows where the potential cliches lie and manages to sidestep most of them, the film makes the most of the confines of both genre and locale (the U.S.-born Antal worked similar magic with the restricted space of the Budapest subway system in KONTROLL, his made-in-Hungary debut). For a thriller about torture killing for fun and profit, there's actually very little blood compared to say, the plasma-drenched HOSTEL, although it's plenty scary and the videotapes are appropriately nasty. One can't help but wonder what sort of person could ever find pleasure in watching innocent people terrorized, tortured and killed, until Antal offers a few subtle reminders that you yourself have just paid for the very same privilege.
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