THE INNKEEPERS (2011)
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, George Riddle, Alison Bartlett, Jake Schlueter, Lena Dunham, John Speredakos, Brenda Cooney and Sean Reid.
Screenplay by Ti West.
Directed by Ti West.
Distributed by Magnet Releasing. 101 minutes. Rated R.
I am not sure what it is exactly with me and horror movies. A slasher film – in which a crazed mass murderer violently slices and dices through a group of people – will almost inevitably leave me cold and disinterested. Blood does not frighten me. I find extreme violence rather dull, even. It is lazy filmmaking.
However, a ghost story, no matter how well made (or not) it is, will inevitably creep me out more than anything else in the world. No other type of movie will give me the chills and make me jump in my seat like a frightened child.
Truth to be told, The Innkeepers is not the best ghost film I’ve ever seen. The dialogue was occasionally hit or miss, the story was a bit clichéd and some of the supporting acting was… well broad, to be charitable.
That doesn’t change the fact that I was squirming in my seat (in a good way) through much of the last half hour and often overcome with the chills as I watched the action unfolding. At points, The Innkeepers scared the bejesus out of me – even though I intellectually knew all the buttons they were pushing – and that’s all the film is really trying to do.
Therefore, the film is a success. Sure, there are better ghost stories, but damned if this one doesn’t work, too.
In fact, it works surprisingly well, and mostly because – like its main characters – the film is not trying too hard. It just seems to be hanging out and enjoying itself and suddenly the scares take over. The ending is a bit disappointing – mostly because there really isn’t one in the traditional sense, you keep waiting for a pay-off to the final shock that never quite comes – but the film leading up to that was tense and surprisingly funny.
The Innkeepers takes place during the final days of an old New England hotel called the Yankee Pedlar Inn. (It is a real place, located in Torrington, Connecticut.) The place is being shut down, and in its last week the running of the business left to a couple of young, slacker employees. (Just in the movie is the hotel closing, the real Pedlar is still in business.)
There is Claire (Sara Paxton), a tomboyishly cute girl in her early twenties who is a bit more insecure about her life and lack of ambition than she likes to let on. Luke (Pat Healy) is an older, more hardened, jaded slacker, reaching the age that his lack of motivation is no longer cute, but still fighting against the ideas of real life-jobs, relationships and responsibilities.
Claire and Luke don’t really care that much about actually doing their job; little things like getting towels for rooms seem to be beyond their scope. However, the two enjoy hanging out together, chatting about nothing and everything. They obviously like each other – though his feelings may be a bit more romantically based than hers – and they realize that once the hotel closes, they probably won’t be seeing each other all that much.
This professional laxness is probably not a big problem, since there are only four customers staying in the whole place. One is a grouchy young mother (Alison Bartlett) who is hiding herself and her son from her estranged husband. There is also a former-TV-star-turned-spiritualist (Kelly McGillis) who is in town for a convention – and, coincidentally, to give the two kids some insight into the spiritual world. Then, midway through the film, they are visited by a mysterious old man who is nostalgic for the room where he spent his honeymoon (George Riddle).
Plus, Luke and Claire have decided on this last week of the Pedlar’s existence, they will try to find some evidence about the legend of Madeline O’Malley, the long-rumored ghost that supposedly haunts the place. Luke has been putting together a website on the haunting at the hotel, but Claire actually seems to be more enthusiastic about the ghost-hunt, if only as something to relieve the boredom.
The Innkeepers pulls off a trick on the audience that only the best horrors can master. Claire and Luke are mostly fun and funny companions and for a good amount of the running time it seems more like a slacker comedy than a horror. However, the scares start to pop up, slowly at first but eventually more and more urgency. Quickly the film becomes something very different than it was in the early scenes – but the fact that we have grown to care about the characters makes their eventual danger all the more gripping.
Paxton, in particular, nails her role. Claire is smart and funny and insecure and lost, and the actress easily handles most all of the moods. Healy’s character is a bit less nuanced and more predictable, but he does very well. Aging former 80s starlet McGillis (Witness, Top Gun) isn’t given quite enough to do, but she does what she has been given with style. It’s nice to see her back on screen in one of her all-too-rare performances.
Honestly, the spooky stuff doesn’t work quite as well as the lighter lead-in material. It is often extremely scary and very well filmed, but too often depends on genre clichés and our characters making boneheaded decisions, while the earlier parts mostly feel fresh and original. However, writer/director Ti West – who also made a surprisingly effective genre film with the very different 2009 flick The House of the Devil – does know how to tighten the screws of suspense and also knows when to leave the scares to the imagination.
And if the final fadeout leaves the audience wanting more of an explanation for what has just happened – which it does – that is just further proof that West had hooked us into his world.
The Innkeepers isn’t a perfect horror film, but it is a pretty damned good one.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 30, 2011.