PictureVacancy is a film that demands a good transfer if it is to succeed on HD. The entire film takes place at night, and during the opening twenty minutes the only light is the light from the car headlights illuminating the characters inside the car. This is the typical situation where an HD transfer can really show its mettle - and this transfer does not disappoint.
Presented in full 1080P, the black levels are deep and intense. The film is shot in such a way that the shadows are very important to the film. We are given tantalising glimpses of movement in the shadows, and the detail of these events shows up really well on Blu Ray.
The film uses a very natural look, in keeping with the surroundings that the protagonists find themselves in. Even the bright neon signs against the black of the night sky show no bleeding, and the image has a nice natural depth to it.
The director choses a very drab, dirty, run down look to the motel environments - meaning that the only real use of bright colour is the aforementioned signs. With so many muted colours on display it is essential that the transfer does justice to the source material - and this is a very well balanced image indeed.
It should be noted that vacancy is not a high budget film, and the film is not overly processed. This means that it is never going to be a film that you will use to demo your HD setup. However, as a accurate transfer that really brings the director's vision to life, this does an excellent job.
SoundThe sound is the one major disappointment from this film. In a frightening film, sound can be used in such a creative way to heighten tension. I will always remember, for example, the use of sound in the DTS mix of The Others (2001). In that film, constant whispering voices in the rears is used to ratchet up the tension in the film.
Unfortunately, there is no such subtlety in this mix - which is a shame. This is not necessarily a fault with the actual mix on the disc - more of the original sound design I feel.
The mix is presented in two versions - a PCM 5.1 Surround mix for those with the equipment, and a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. For the purpose of this review, I gave the latter track a listen and whilst I found it a solid mix, I was unimpressed with the general use of the whole sound field.
Firstly, this a surprisingly dialogue heavy soundtrack, with a lot of the words being whispered urgently. Yet at no times do you need to adjust the mix. The dialogue is always crystal clear and precisely placed in the center of the mix.
The sub does not get a great deal of use in the mix, but when it is needed it is certainly well used. Examples of this are when the attackers are banging on the walls at the beginning of the film. Your whole room shakes with the impact and it is really quite an unnerving experience. Later on, when a car is introduced into the proceedings, the sub also deals with the low rumble of the engine well.
It is in the use of the surrounds where the sound mix is perhaps undersold. There is plenty of opportunity for ominous sounds - creaks and rustles as the tension is mounting. But the truth is that there is very little of this. Occasionally we get the rattle of a door knob, or the smashing of glass, but so much more could have been done with these channels.
Overall then, we have a solid sound mix but it is perhaps not quite as subtle or as clever as it needs to be to truly complement the film.
ExtrasThis is the first time that I really did feel uncomfortable watching an extra feature. The feature in question is the Extended Snuff Scenes. As mentioned in the main body of the review, the snuff films are only presented briefly in the main feature, but here we get to watch them in all their glory. Watch naked women being slaughtered in graphic detail, and old man pleading desperately and tearfully for his life, and a man being strung up and slowly hung whilst he is stuck with a knife over and over. I suppose I can see why these needed to be made in order to fit into the main film, but quite frankly I found them unpleasant, and two of them very difficult to watch indeed. Not my favourite extra of all time.
Things do improve, however, with the rather excellent documentary Checking In : Behind the scenes of Vacancy which lasts 21 minutes. This is a standard talk piece, interspersed with behind the scenes footage, but the difference here is that the people interviewed actually have interesting things to say about the film and its influences. Definitely a cut above the average feature.
The extras are rounded out by an alternative ending and one deleted scene. Overall considering the budget of the film, I think it is as well served as it can possibly be without the addition of a commentary track. This is a glaring omission, but what is here is certainly interesting and informative (apart from the snuff movies which were just unpleasant).
VerdictVacancy is a film that dares to be different. Paying homage to Hitchcock, the film takes a well worn premise and weaves it into a tense, taut, thriller which will keep you on the edge of your seat. The use of a couple of nonsensical plot points in the third act does rather detract from the overall experience, but it is a film that deserves kudos for trying to do things slightly differently.
The disc presents an excellent transfer, and a solid sound mix that is unspectacular but serves the film reasonably well. A decent documentary is the highlight of the extras package, but a Director's Commentary would not have gone amiss.
Certainly, this is a flawed piece of work - but it comes recommended nonetheless. It is a pleasure to say that despite the myriad of subtitle and audio options offered on the European disc, the extras are still identical to the US version - so those with a UK Blu ray player will not miss out on anything when purchasing this quirky and suspenseful film.
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