Vacancy Blu-ray Review

Seedy motels are a terrific location for suspenseful horror. They’re usually found in the middle of nowhere, the staff are byproducts of Deliverance, the guests have even less teeth, and the spooky flickering neon sign outside might as well spell out “Death 24/7.” B-List actors find themselves stranded at these motels on a near-annual basis, but it’s rare where when A-Listers are willing to shack up in a room, much less under the wing of first-time North American director Nimrod Antal.

That’s precisely the working arrangement in Vacancy, starring Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson as a soon-to-be-divorced couple forced to stay the night in a backwoods motel after their car has broken down. Faster than the estranged couple can kick off their shoes, mysterious tapes left on the television reveal their motel room is a soundstage, and they’re the starring victims in a snuff film where the cameras are already rolling.

Unlike other recent horror films, Vacancy builds white-knuckle tension and fear rather than gross out audiences with gallons of fake blood splattered on every wall. The pacing, camera angles and cinematography are obviously Hitchcock-inspired, which combined with the near bloodless script, works well to differentiate Vacancy from the pack. I can’t recall a more nerve-wracking use of door and wall banding to elicit fear in recent memory.

Along with excessive gore, another recent trend in horror films has the hero and heroine able to defeat their attackers by dumb or unexplainable luck. Had Owen Wilson been cast in lieu of Luke then that angle may have worked. Instead, Luke’s character has been written as an intelligent, thinking husband who rather than panic or turn into Rambo, thinks first and acts second. After exhausting all visible options for escaping their room, he calmly turns to snuff tapes left on the television for mistakes the attackers may have previously made. Upon spotting something, he’s able to deduce how the victims were so easily compromised ” a discovery that may save he and his wife’s lives.

Where Wilson shines as a man driven to save his wife at any cost, Kate is present in body only with little to do other than scream on cue or look pretty until the final minutes. Her character’s chance to step up comes at the expense of dumbing-down Luke’s in an uncharacteristic brave act of stupidity. This sequence of events triggers an abrupt and unsatisfying ending serving as a severe letdown to the Hitchcock-ian tension Antal built up preceding it.

Sony presents Vacancy on Blu-ray Disc with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer that holds up to the rigors of a film having been shot entirely at night. An abundance of dark scenes maintain an amazing amount of detail, especially during a daunting escape through a tight underground tunnel. I was half-expecting to be disappointed by blocking or contrast drop-off at any moment, and thankfully neither ever materialized. A balanced, though not overly pronounced PCM 5.1 lossless mix helps complete the high-def horror experience, with subtle rear-channel effects and the occasional strong wall and door banging outburst.

Sony has elected to copy supplemental material from the standard DVD version of Vacancy to Blu-ray disc with one notable exception: an increase in resolution to 1080i. This improvement might be more meaningful had there been more substance to the extras, but at least we weren’t given a bare-bones treatment.

First up is a score-less Alternate Opening (1:16) that, had it been included in the final cut, would have turned the entire film into a flashback. The longest supplemental, Checking In: The Cast and Crew of Vacancy (21:38), is a typical fluff-piece more concerned with each actor providing a synopsis for the film than diving into more interesting behind-the-scenes material. Mason’s Video Picks: Extended Snuff Films (8:49) is an intriguing selection as it expands on the brutality seen in the brief snuff film snippets during the feature. Unfortunately, each snuff film is riddled with deliberate static and interference on top of violent acts that render these nearly unwatchable. Last is a deleted scene, Raccoon Encounter (1:26), adding nothing more than a reason to use the stun raccoon one more time.

Vacancy goes against today’s bloody approach to horror with an old-school approach relying on a familiar setting and fear of the unknown. It’s still strange to see A-List actors participating in this type of project instead of sexy teenagers, but welcome, too, if for nothing more than a breath of fresh air. Checking into Vacancy on Blu-ray is a great way to spend a dark and stormy night.

– Dan Bradley

TheHDRoom may be paid a small commission for any services or products ordered through select links on this page.