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VACANCY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry
Director: Nimrod Antal
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Sony Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 85 Minutes
Release Date: August 14, 2007

“911 Emergency.”

“They’ve got us trapped.”

“You’re going to need to settle down, sir.  You’ll never survive if you lose control, Mr. Fox.”

Film ***

Motels are never a trustworthy setting in a horror movie. It was a rule established by Hitchcock’s Psycho, and we are again reminded of the rule in Vacancy, a creepy and terrifying chiller of a flick that pays homage to Hitchcock in more ways than one. One of the most surprising elements is that, despite the R rating, the movie isn’t too heavy on blood and gore but rather in scary viewers the old fashion way, hence the homage to Hitchcock.

If I were to rate a movie’s opening titles, Vacancy would easily earn four stars. The movie opens with an original, in-your-face opening titles with a chilling score, ranking this as the best one since Psycho, which of course is what inspired it. Talk about starting the movie off with a bang.

Now the plot of Vacancy is far from original, but is executed with such top craftsmanship. Plus, what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for with many scary, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, as well as a consistently creepy and claustrophobic tone. And at a fast paced running time of 85 minutes, all is certainly well delivered in terms of what one seeks in a horror thriller.

The movie opens in a David Fox (Luke Wilson) and his wife, Amy (Kate Beckinsale), who lost on a highway during a road trip in the middle of the night. When David makes a shortcut, they get even more lost and almost hit a raccoon, resulting in minor car damage. They have no choice but to wait till morning for a mechanic to fix them up.

In the meantime, they will have to settle for a cheap room in the very cheap-looking motel that the couple come across after nearly hiking a mile. The look alone of this motel makes the Bates Motel seem more like The Ritz Carlton. Nonetheless David and Amy, with no other lodging options, accept a key from the ever-so-creepy manager, Mason (Frank Whaley).

As it turns out, David and Amy are an arguing couple on the verge of a divorce. The road trip was an effort to heal a wound caused by a tragic event in the past, but it has only driven them further apart. David tries talking about their problems, but Amy always seems to get upset as a result.

But their marital problems are about to become the least of their worries, as David and Amy slowly realize that they are being terrorized not very soon after checking in. As if the manager’s creepy demeanor wasn’t enough to deal with, the couple experience loud banging on their door that never seems to end. And moments later David pops in a videotape that turns out to be the recording of a couple being murdered in the very room that they are checked in, no less.

It’s at this point when Vacancy, directed with pure skill by American born Hungarian director Nimrod Antal, unleashes an unrelenting level of tension. Other aspects that help in delivering the chills are the cinematography of Andrzej Sekula (Pulp Fiction), and the top-notch production design courtesy of Jon Gary Steele. Both elements help in creating an unbelievably claustrophobic feel that will get your fear level rising.

One element of the movie that truly creeped me out was the idea of the motel staff trapping guests in their rooms so that they can become victims of a snuff movie. When David pops in that first videotape, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It’s as if I was right there in the room with them. Not since 8MM had I even seen the plot device of a snuff movie (they’re not always pleasant), and the footage captured in the videos are truly terrifying.

The only letdown of the movie is the final 15 minutes, which feels like an all too traditional standoff ending, not to mention a little rushed. On the one hand, the ending could’ve been a whole lot worse, but the final moments simply don’t compare to the level of scares and tension delivered in the scenes leading up to it. But in the end, this is a minor complaint of an otherwise top quality and scary thriller.

It’s not everyday that top-notch stars like Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale appear in a movie of this sort, but they are both terrific in the movie. I was particularly impressed by Wilson’s performance; since this is perhaps the first non-comedy/comic relief role I’ve seen him in. But the standout role belongs to Frank Whaley as the overseer of the mayhem. From his first line delivery, I was creeped out by his performance.

If you want spine-tingling chills courtesy of superb filmmaking, Vacancy is very much the movie to check into.

Video ****

This is a fantastic looking presentation from Sony. The anamorphic picture (Full Screen also available) is crisp, clear and sharp as a blade. And since about 90 percent of the movie is shot with a great deal of dark light, that’s really saying something. The terrific cinematography looks even more astounding. The picture quality looks even better when the lights are turned off.

Audio ****

As far as horror thrillers go, Vacancy represents one of the best ones I’ve ever heard on this format. The 5.1 mix delivers the jolts right from the outstanding music score that opens the film. From that point on, the surround sound level is super, incorporating loud sounds in numerous areas that really make you jump. Dialogue delivery is terrifically clear and the playback of the music score is nothing short of astonishing.

Features **

Not too many motel room-like perks for this release. Included is good enough behind the scenes featurette titled “Checking In: Behind the Scenes of Vacancy”, Deleted Scenes, an Alternate Opening, Extended Snuff Films and Bonus Previews for additional Sony releases.

Summary:

Vacancy is quite a riveting exercise in the level of sheer terror established by Alfred Hitchcock. By using cinematography and other production values, the film delivers more chills and scares than you’re usual blood-soaked splatter picture. A must for those in need of multiple scares.

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