Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
Nimrod Antal is a downright fascinating filmmaker, chameleon-esque in his ability to change style of filmmaking as a whole to fit the tone or influences of a story. While some of his work is indicative of a free-form and untamed director, the highly creepy VACANCY is an underrated gem of simple suspense that prides itself on Antal’s restraint. In fact, the mixture of Mark L. Smith’s minimalist premise and Antal’s resourceful execution was exactly what drew this writer to revisit the film in black-and-white.
First off, this is a film you’re going to want to lean heavier on the contrast, although avoid going too far and blowing out the white levels. Since the film almost entirely takes place at night, the darkness will create a naturally strong shadow effect, yet the cinematography has already factored that in and made up for it with strategic lighting. In that regard, the transition should be even enough when removed of color, yet the increase in contrast will always help brighten the monochromatic experience.
When presented without color, VACANCY immediately becomes a different entity entirely, replacing the aura of a low-budget thriller with that of a classically informed cat-and-mouse horror picture. The simplistic art design now sticks out as intimidating and treacherous as opposed to low-rent and humble, ramping up the creepy atmosphere tenfold. Furthermore, the dialogue takes on a new life in black-and-white, feeling less archetypical and more evocative of Hitchcock influence.
In fact, the monochromatic presentation truly helps redefine the film as emulating Hitchcock at his prime, whether it’s the Saul Bass-inspired opening sequence, or the minimal amount of gore. From the limited cast and setting to the striking frame composition by Andrzej Sekuła, there seems to be little that Antal doesn’t borrow from the master of suspense. However, Antal does inject some of his own personality into the proceedings, especially in the film’s dark humor, terrific sound design and a claustrophobic escape sequence that’s incredibly effective viewed in black-and-white.
The performances also feel somewhat more tailored to black-and-white, emphasizing the physical quirks of each performance over line delivery. Here, the weariness of the broken couple (played by Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) is much more apparent, which makes the desperation in their survival appear more deserved and taxing. The presentation also benefits the knife-wielding killers, allowing their physical frustration to gleam brightly through nearly dialogue-free performances. And of course, Frank Whaley’s odd smarm and polite mannerisms feels more acceptable in black-and-white, almost as if he was cast straight out of ‘50s horror villain school.
Viewing this modern “survive-the-night” horror film in black-and-white is exponentially more gratifying, and may actually be the preferred presentation for this writer. VACANCY is a great film to experiment with monochromatically, as the movie narratively turns from a worst case scenario slasher into an intense and paranoid stalker film. Eerie and unnerving, VACANCY is a film that works best when leaving the horror to your imagination, something the black-and-white only pushes further into darker territory.
Recommended for Black and White Consumption: Yes.