Running a skinny 80 minutes plus credits, "Vacancy" is a tight little thriller from director Nimrod Atal, making his English-language debut. The film certainly doesn't waste a whole lot of time getting right into the middle of things - it focuses on David Fox (Luke Wilson, just about the last person I'd think of for a thriller) and Amy Fox (Kate Beckinsale), a couple who are in the midst of breaking up as the movie opens.
Heading through a rural road in the middle of the night, David skids off the road in order to try and avoid a racoon, only to find that the car is now acting up. After talking with a local mechanic (Ethan Embry), the two try to head off into the night towards the expressway, only to have the car conk out in the middle of nowhere soon after.
Walking through the backroads in the middle of the night, the two eventually come upon a seedy motel with an even seedier manager (Frank Whaley). They chat for a little while about their problems before there's some very strange pounding on the door and sounds coming from the next room. When David investigates, he finds nothing and the manager isn't much help. David tries to watch TV, only to find no signal. Browsing through a set of tapes by the TV, he sees what appear to be a set of violent horror films. It quickly dawns on David that the room in the videos looks a whole lot like the room that they're standing in. Looking around the corners of the room, he spots hidden cameras everywhere.
Moments later, a set of guys in masks start a chase that will last the entire night and into the next morning. Director Atal has constructed an intense game of cat-and-mouse, and he's aided quite well by cinematographer Andrzej Sekula ("Pulp Fiction"). The film feels incredibly claustrophobic, which certainly adds to the tension as David and Amy have to crawl through tunnels and run from room to ominous room in order to try and escape from their persuers.
While the incredibly tense chase sequences work well, the performances also are a reason why the movie works. Admittedly, I haven't been impressed by Wilson in a performance outside those he's done for Wes Anderson, but he's actually much better than expected in this role, providing a solid, straightforward performance. Beckinsale is also a good match and doesn't play the damsel in distress. The characters here actually seem moderately intelligent instead of characters in these kinds of films that always do the completely wrong thing at the wrong time, which is a nice change.
"Vacancy" never really develops the villain much, but the picture manages to develop the leads enough that we care about them and manages to keep the pace brisk and the surprises frequent. "Vacancy" isn't without a few minor issues, but this is mostly a good, old-fashioned and tightly-paced thriller.
VIDEO: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents "Vacancy" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 pan & scan (both editions accessible from the main menu.) This is a mostly fantastic transfer, kept from being flawless by some slight edge enhancement in a few scenes. Otherwise, sharpness and detail are terrific, as the picture maintained impressive detail and clarity even in the darkest of scenes. No flaws were spotted on the elements and colors remained rather subdued throughout, seemingly by intent. Black level remained solid throughout, while flesh tones looked accurate.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offered up some enjoyable thrills and chills throughout the show. Although the film's opening is fairly dialogue-driven, the surrounds are used well for ambience and are used to better effect as the movie goes on. Once the film gets rolling, the rear speakers are used superbly for sound effects and reinforcement of the terrific score from Paul Haslinger ("Underworld"). Audio quality was terrific, as speech sounded crisp and well-recorded and sound effects were clean and clear.
EXTRAS: Extended room videos, a deleted scene, "Behind the Scenes: Checking In" feautrette and promos for other titles from the studio ("30 Days of Night" and others.)
Final Thoughts: "Vacancy" isn't without a few minor issues, but this is mostly a good, old-fashioned and tightly-paced thriller. The DVD presentation boasts excellent audio/video quality, but little in the way of extras.
The Film B+