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Vacancy (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/14/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/7/2007

When you call a plumber or an electrician, you want to them to come in, do the work properly, and get out as quickly as possible. This is a simple example of our quick fix culture. So, what's wrong with a movie which does the same thing? Hollywood films keep getting longer and longer, but that doesn't mean that they're getting any better. I certainly don't mind films like Vacancy, an 85-minute gem which tells its story concisely and succinctly.

As Vacancy opens, we meet David (Luke Wilson) and Amy Fox (Kate Beckinsale), a couple who are constantly at each other's throats due to the stress created by the death of their son. They are driving on a lonely stretch of highway, returning from Amy's parent's house. When their car begins to make odd sounds, they stop at an old gas station, which is adjacent to a forgotten motel. A friendly mechanic (Ethan Embry) assists them, but as soon as they drive away, the car stalls. Returning to the motel, Amy and David are greeted by the night manager, Mason (Frank Whaley), who informs them that the mechanic has gone home and there aren't any other garages in the area. So, David and Amy decide to spend the night in the motel.

Entering their room, the couple is disgusted by the condition of the bathroom and bed. But, they are further disgusted when they discover that the videotapes sitting atop the VCR contain what appear to be snuff films. David quickly realizes that the movie they are watching was shot in their very motel room! At that point, Amy and David find their room besieged by two masked killers. Thus begins a game of cat-and-mouse as the pair attempt to move throughout the old motel, attempting to survive the night.

As noted above, a long movie isn't always a good idea. Sure, there are films such as Die Hard or Aliens whose length didn't bother me, but most movies today go on for too long. (And then we get deleted scenes on the DVD!) I've always said, "If you've only got enough material to make an 80-minute movie, then make the best 80-minute movie that you can." Much like Wes Craven's Red Eye, Vacancy is less an attempt to tell a story, but rather it's a thrill-machine which quickly brings the audience into the story and plunges them into a desperate situation.

Some viewers may not like the fact that writer Mark L. Smith hasn't crowded the film with too much plot, too many characters, or too much explanation. We are introduced to the Fox's, they are forced to stay at the motel, and then they are forced to fight for their lives -- plain and simple. I'm typical the first to call foul when a movie doesn't give us a lot of details, but they simply aren't necessary here. The people at the motel kill off unsuspecting tourists and make snuff films, we don't need to know anything other than that. This bare-bones approach allows director Nimrod Antal to focus on the pacing of the movie and the staging of the various terror scenes. Antal does a very good job of creating a sense of claustrophobia, and there are some nice head-fakes during some of the chase scenes. The movie rarely drags and the movie is a nice example of what can be done with essentially one set.

Vacancy is a well-done thriller, but it does have a few problems. While the movie is satisfying, none of it feels original. The combination of Psycho and every Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoff urban people attacked by people in the country doesn't feel the least bit new. Thus, some of the story is predictable, especially the scenes where other people arrive at the motel. Again, the movie does a fine job of spreading the action around the quaint motel, but in the end, there's only so much it can do, and watching David and Amy run from room to room does feel a bit tedious in the third act. And finally, the film's climax will feel like a cop out to some viewers. Despite the fact that Vacancy doesn't come off as fresh, the movie does sport some novelty. It features two well-known actors appearing in an often-time brutal thriller. (Be warned, the snuff footage is quite graphic.)

In an age where "concept films" attempt to shove as much story into one movie as they can (see Transformers), it's refreshing to see a movie like Vacancy. This is a down-and-dirty thriller and it doesn't pretend to be anything else. The movie is very well-made and it will have you on the edge of your seat for 70-minutes. The movie may not be original, but it knows what it wants to do, and it does it well.

Vacancy checks in on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The DVD features both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the movie. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as it's noticeably sharp and clear. The picture is free from overt grain and there are no defects from the source material. The movie has been shot in a "film noir" style, with dark scenes and bold colors. The action is always visible in the darker scenes and the colors, especially the reds, look fine. I noted no distracting video noise or artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, but it's the surround sound and subwoofer effects during the attack scenes which is quite impressive. The banging coming from around the Fox's room fills the speakers, placing the viewer squarely in the action.

The Vacancy DVD only has a few extras. "Checking In: The Cast & Crew of Vacancy" is a 22-minute featurette which explores the making of the film. We learn about the conception of the script and the cast discuss their characters. Then we get a look at the production design and the creation of the impressive sets. The other extras are simply DELETED SCENES. I'm glad that the "Alternate Opening Sequence" (77 seconds) was cut, as it would have had the film opening at the ending, and I'm not a big fan of that. "Raccoon Encounter" (88 seconds) is a deleted scene which is exactly what it sounds like. "Mason's Video Picks: Extended Snuff Films" (9 minutes) are simply uncut versions of the videos found in the motel. I'm not sure who would want to watch those.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has also released Vacancy on Blu-Ray Disc.  The aspect ratio and the special features are the same as the DVD release.   When compared to the DVD, the image on the Blu-Ray release is definitely sharper.  I was surprised by how clearly I could see all of the pours on Luke Wilson's nose.  (I'm not saying that's a good thing, but it's an illustration of the HD picture.)  To be honest, this was a tough movie to review on Blu-Ray because the entire film takes place at night.  I usually like a nice daytime scene to evaluate the clarity of a transfer.  Still, the video looks awesome.  The Blu-Ray disc features a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and an uncompressed PCM 5.1 track.  Both sound very good, but the PCM track offers more details.  Each track does a fine job of recreating the movie's superb sound design, most notably the scene in which the Fox's first arrive in their room and someone begins banging on the door and adjacent walls.  The audio tracks separate these sounds to the appropriate speaker, adding to the tension of the scene.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long