2007, US, Directed by Nimród Antal
Colour, Running Time: 85 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, RB, Sony; Video: 2.39:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: LPCM 5.1
(Note, review also over at the new Grim Cellar) From the director of the recent Predators and Mark Smith, the writer of Joe Dante’s 3D terror flick The Hole, comes a fairly basic tale about a disenchanted couple - Amy and David Fox - whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Unable to get anybody to fix the unreliable vehicle so late at night they resort to staying at a Bates-style motel that should at least offer them respite from the night until they’re able to call upon a local mechanic the next day. At least that’s their plan. Firstly there seems to be something slightly offbeat about the motel owner, though perhaps this is the result of him living in backwoods America (hey, they’re all potential headcases and salivating homicidal loones in the movies anyway, right?). They then settle into their room to find it’s a pretty disgusting excuse for a hospitable environment that one must pay to retire to: dirty bed sheets, insects crawling about on the floor - reminds me of the hotel I accidentally booked in Copenhagen’s red light area once. Before they have chance to get back to arguing about their failing marriage there is heavy banging on the walls and doors. Understandably spooked David heads back to the owner to politely request a resolution to the noise problem, and things calm down for a while after the manager grabs his gun, suggesting to David that vagrants sometimes break in and cause a bit of trouble. Back in the room David finds a few VHS tapes (remember those, film-lovers?) and tries a couple out. Making a welcome change from the Gideon’s Bible, the tapes depict people being raped, tortured and murdered, a momentary distraction until David notices that the people were being put out of their misery in the very room the couple are now staying in - it clicks that these are not horror films but snuff recordings! Then the terror really starts - the room is attacked by one or more masked assailants and the couple can find no way of escape; it looks like they are scheduled to become the next in a line of unwitting snuff movie stars…
Utilising the capable talents of Kate Beckinsale (as ever, very comfortable to gaze at) and Luke Wilson as the stereotyped jaded couple (they lost their child, she holds them as a couple responsible, makes sarcastic comments every time he even breathes, etc) Vacancy can’t be accused of wasting much time, coming in at a much shorter than average running time. Of course, that is partly a consequence of there being very little story to pad the film out much beyond eighty minutes anyway, but as long as you go in without expectations of an epic there’s not much to be disappointed about. Direction is slick and the set is impressive - interiors and facias were built at Sony’s soundstages I understand, whereas the entire exterior set was recreated outdoors, the whole thing boasting an authentic appearance and being suitably grimy. Photographic approach is deliberately dark with harsh lighting and shadows for the most part - this might prove problematic for some home cinema set-ups and I did find the excessive darkness a little irritating on occasions, though I can certainly understand the intended purpose of creating an unnerving atmosphere. Considering it could have been tempting in today’s cinematic climate to focus on the torture/violence depicted in the videotapes, Antal and Smith avoided this by volition, offering only glimpses of torment and brutality while concentrating on the frenetic drama cooked up for the couple as they scramble for some kind of escape from their would-be killers. This is both a potential plus and minus for the film because, whilst it is refreshing to take an alternative route to the overly popular torture-porn subgenre, some may level the criticism that Vacancy is consequently anaemic by today’s standards. That’s not a problem in my eyes because the genre is awash with more visceral material should that be preferable. What we’re left with is a fast-paced chase horror/thriller that induces a little bit of an excited response as the couple’s situation looks like it could be an impossible problem.
The Blu-ray disc presents a highly crisp image with very little grain to speak of - this is surprising because the film was reportedly shot in Super 35. Colours are especially bold but the aforementioned cinematography ensures blacks and darker areas are present in abundance - I had to perform some minor recalibration to make the image a little easier on the eyes. Nevertheless there are many shots that are good demonstrations of the format. Sound options come in the form of plain old Dolby Digital 5.1, or and uncompressed LPCM track which is better for those with capable amplifiers; both offer a thumping audio experience without any issues. Extras are a little under-resourced - the 20 minute featurette sheds a little bit of light on the background and shooting of the film, there are a couple of excised sequences, the snuff films as a separate piece, and a trailer from the third chapter of Sony’s more profitable franchise, Spider-Man. Overall I’d recommend the Blu-ray over the DVD, of course for it’s strong A/V presentation. The film itself has held up quite well over a couple of viewings for me, and has spewed forth a straight-to-disc prequel that sounds like it doesn’t reach heights of anything above average.