dir. Ti West
Release Date: Apr 24, 12
Ti West’s first film The House of the Devil served two primary purposes: to introduce a distinctive, inarguably talented new voice into the genre scene, and to prove that you can in fact make a horror movie that’s only buildup with next to no payoff or resolution. With The Innkeepers, West’s second full-length feature, he’s improved by massive leaps, and made a throwback horror film that recalls some of the best from the original Hammer Studios while also displaying the patience that’s already become West’s trademark.
The Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing. Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are twentysomething employees tasked with seeing the last handful of guests make their way out on the final weekend before everything shuts down. Luke is interested in paranormal activity, and runs a crudely designed website about the various haunted encounters he’s had in the Pedlar. Claire has become interested in pursuing the possible ghosts as well, and so the two pass their nights in shifts, wandering the halls with high-frequency microphones in the hopes they’ll actually catch something. When a former actress-turned-medium (Kelly McGillis) takes up residence, along with a mysterious old man, Luke and Claire discover that there may be more going on at the Pedlar than they expected, possibly related to an urban legend about a jilted bride who supposedly once died there.
The Innkeepers takes a long time to get going, to the point where a great deal of patience is demanded. For the first fifty minutes, there are a meager few scares and a lot of immersion into Claire and Luke’s listless, wage-slave lives. The upside to this is that Paxton and Healy are given a chance to flesh out their characters far better than your normal horror movie screamers. They’re stuck in seemingly infinite limbo, drinking and messing around with otherworldly spirits until they find something else to do. By the time that such a diversion inevitably finds them, they start to realize that meddling may not have been the best idea. At points The Innkeepers almost forms a sort of meta-commentary on the perils of the current generation’s obsession with being entertained at all times. Mostly, though, it’s just a finely crafted haunted house (or hotel) movie.
The film traffics in a few too many jump scares early on, trafficking heavily in West’s knack for sound design and when to spring a trap on an audience. As the tension mounts, though, he moves fairly seamlessly into some genuinely frightening stuff without devolving into the cheap bloodshed that would’ve been easy for a film of this ilk. Paxton gives the film a genuine core; early on, Claire verges on cloying, constantly wide-eyed and amazed at everything happening. When the film turns dark, though, and its secrets begin to unspool, she anchors the film and makes Claire’s terror palpable. In particular, one scene in the dreaded hotel basement near film’s end is thoroughly terrifying. It’s in these little moments that The Innkeepers transcends its often generic trappings and, ironically enough, comes to life.
(This review is for the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the film.)