Sony // 2007 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // August 23rd, 2007
Once you're in, there's no way out.
In the midst of all of the "torture horror" films that have been huge over the last several years, some of mainstream Hollywood has decided to take part in the craze. Vacancy came out to a generally lukewarm reception, but now that it's on video, is there any actual creative spirit, or is it just more of the same shite?
Written by Mark L. Smith (Séance) and directed by Nimrod Antal (Kontroll), the film has seven, count 'em seven, acting roles. David (Luke Wilson, The Royal Tenenbaums) and Amy (Kate Beckinsdale, Van Helsing) are lost on a California road when they experience automobile problems. They shack up at a hotel run by Mason (Frank Whaley, Born on the Fourth of July), but a blind attack begins on their hotel room -- banging on the walls, shadows running past the curtains, that kind of thing. They find a series of "snuff" films where people have been killed in their very same hotel room, making them realize they are in danger of being the next two victims. The rest of the film follows their suspenseful attempts to escape.
You know how I like to make nonsensical stories and connect them somehow to my reviews, right? Well, brace yourself for another one. Does it date the review? Sure, why the hell not? Recently I went to the soccer game where David Beckham made his debut. I've got to say, it was one of the more enjoyable experiences that I have had in recent sports attending memory. Two hours of making stands bounce and cheering and singing for my team to win (which it did) left me hoarse like all get out. But it also poured rain during the game for about 45 minutes, real fat rain like Forrest Gump said. I inherited some sort of weird time release cold and fever, so I was convalescing on the couch and fired this puppy up. And maybe it was because I was under the influence of decongestants, but this was actually worth the time I spent watching it. I mean it was discouraging at first to see that it's less than an hour and a half, but it winds up holding its weight.
Two factors come into consideration when it comes to this. The first is the whole "snuff film" angle. It keeps things solidly placed in realism, and focuses more on the suspense angle of things, rather than glorifying a creative death by the main bad guy that other horror films would exploit. The second thing is there are only seven speaking roles not taken up by extras. I've listed Wilson, Beckinsdale and Whaley, but there's also Ethan Embry (Empire Records). So there are half the big roles, and three others are lesser roles. To a horror film, that means a reduced chance of some stupid twist at the end or something. And performance wise, the capable bodies outweigh the hacks, and yes, that does count Beckinsdale. Whaley makes for a good villain too, despite all of his yelling in the second and third acts.
Ultimately though, the way that Antal tells the story, and more importantly the way Director of Photography Andrzej Sekula (Pulp Fiction) shoots it is quite polished and enhances the tension. The way they show the fracture of David and Amy's marriage in the beginning of the film is good, but it's once they get to the hotel, where handheld shots are more prevalent, the film keeps and retains that gritty realism that keeps it firmly entrenched in its roots. The expectations of Vacancy might have been low, but its accomplishments far outweigh any assumption that this is "just another bad horror film." From a creative point of view, it's leaps and bounds ahead of at least 80 percent of the current horror films being put out by major studios.
Technically, Sony really can put out horror films with a high quality picture, as this MPEG-4 encoded 2.40:1 widescreen presentation looks sharp. The picture looked really good in another film called Identity, but Vacancy seems to possess a bit more vibrant color palette than that, and the colors look great. The fact that black levels are the strongest I can recall seeing on a next generation disc doesn't hurt either. The uncompressed PCM soundtrack reproduces an accurate soundtrack with some minor low end fidelity and surround effects, and everything sounds as good as it's going to. Extras wise, things are pretty light. There are some deleted scenes and the snuff films that are prominent in the film are included, and the making of featurette is quite informative, with the big thing being that the film was mostly filmed on the same soundstage where The Wizard of Oz was filmed. Talk about your yin and yang.
As impressive as the film might be, it's not without falling into the same stupid conventions that other less successful horror films utilize. Amy and David drive a BMW, yet not only does their cell phone coincidentally "not have a signal," but Amy drops it during a chase scene. With what this film tried to do to be different, things like that cheapened how effective it might have been.
On first impression, Vacancy would appear to be more of the same when it comes to horror films, but it winds up being a tightly paced suspense film with convincing performances. And yet it doesn't possess any of the moronic pretentiousness that some of the other horror films of its ilk. It's well worth a look, and you might even wind up buying it.
The court has been taking plenty of fluids and getting rest, and feels that the filmmakers are not guilty of the charges. Bring on the next case.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* On Set Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Extended Snuff Films
* Official Site