"Vacancy" was a moderate hit a couple of years ago, as the creepy horror flick that starred Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson managed to scare up nearly $20M in theaters and did reasonably good business on DVD. However, while the first film was a moderately good horror/thriller, there really didn't seem like the potential to create a franchise of films. Still, a couple of years later, we get "Vacancy 2: The First Cut", a prequel.
For those who are unfamiliar with the first film, it followed a couple (Beckinsale and Wilson) whose car broke down in the middle of nowhere, and the couple was forced to find shelter in a rundown old hotel. Little did they know the horrifying events that were being filmed via video surveillance systems in the rooms, but once they stumbled onto evidence, the film became a cat and mouse chase throughout the hotel and the nearby grounds.
The prequel opens a few years prior, with the hotel operators Gordon (David Moscow) and Reece (Brian Klugman) using the surveillance systems to spy on honeymooners and other couples and selling the tapes. When a man named Smith (Scott G. Anderson) comes in and checks in with a prostitute, the two owners watch in horror as the brutal events unfold in the room. The two owners knock out Smith, but don't report what happened, because of the videotaping they'd been doing. Smith suggests a horrific new idea: continue videotaping, but to focus on a very different subject matter.
Soon, three friends - Jessica (Agnes Brucker), Caleb (Trevor Wright) and Tanner (Arjay Smith) - cross paths with the property and settle in for the night. Soon enough, Tanner figures out that they are being watched when he finds the equipment. When the watchers realize that the gig is up, so starts another chase around the dimly-lit rooms and into the dark night.
"Vacancy 2" doesn't reinvent the wheel - in fact, it's more or less a repeat of the original, only with three people being chased instead of two. However, despite the relative predictability of the film, director Eric Bross (whose most noteworthy previous effort is a TV film about Martha Stewart, "Martha Behind Bars") still manages to give the proceedings a surprisingly glossy look that, while not up to the level of the first film, still is an improvement over most direct-to-video efforts.
Performances, while not particularly memorable, are also better than one might expect from a direct-to-video effort like this. Anderson offers an effective performance as the villain, while the trio of Bruckner, Wright and Smith manage to make their characters a little more than the one-dimensional ones they could have been.
This isn't great material and again, largely goes over the ground that the original covered. Although not memorable overall, the performances are better than expected and Bross manages both a better-looking picture and (occasionally) a more tense picture than I would have expected from a direct-to-video sequel.
VIDEO: "Vacancy 2" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Image quality isn't flawless, but remains solidly above-average for much of the production. Sharpness and detail are terrific in most scenes, although some scenes look a tad softer than the rest. Flaws include some mild edge enhancement in a few scenes and a couple of slight traces of pixelation. Still, most of the film looked clean and smooth. Colors generally looked subdued, but some brighter/richer colors occasionally appeared and looked spot-on accurate. Overall, this was a fine transfer.
SOUND: The film is offered with a moderately aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. While the rear speakers are not always put to use, they kick in on several occasions for effects (both subtle and intense) as well as creepy ambience. Audio quality is fine, with crisp, well-recorded dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: Director Eric Bross, producer Hal Lieberman, exec producer Brian Paschal and actors Agnes Bruckner and David Moscow offer up a commentary track for the film. We also get 2 featurettes ("Caught on Tape" and "Behind the Fascade: Constructing the Meadow View Inn"), 3 deleted scenes and quite a few trailers (including sequels for "Anaconda" and "The Grudge") for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: Although not great horror, "Vacancy 2"'s performances are better than expected and Bross manages both a better-looking picture and (occasionally) a more tense picture than I would have expected from a direct-to-video sequel. The DVD offers very fine audio/video quality, along with a few decent extras. A rental for horror fans.
The Film C+