The Innkeepers (2012)

11 Jul

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’m convinced now—Ti West is the new king of horror. As he showed with “The House of the Devil” and now “The Innkeepers,” West clearly knows how to build suspense and how to hook audiences and keep them invested from the intriguingly creepy setup to the horrific payoff. West doesn’t go for the easy ways out—he hints early on at what’s going to be seen late in the film, and builds the suspense from that. Thanks to sharp execution and a few effectively helpful gimmicks (letting a shot continue, using open spaces, and such), he’s able to keep us on edge whenever a character appears or walks into a certain position. That’s a pure sign that a horror-film director can earn the trust of horror-film buffs.

West’s “The Innkeepers” also has the fortune of having visible character development. The film is essentially a ghost story that is merely built around these characters, so that more time is spent getting to know them so that we grow to care about them by the time the real horror begins. “The Innkeepers” takes place at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, an old time hotel in New England that is going out of business, due to lack of customers and modern-day touch. The hotel is seemingly haunted, which fascinates the two people working there on the last weekend before the hotel closes for good. These are Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), who decide to spend their time at the hotel investigating paranormal activity and seeking any sort of sign of a ghostly figure. Luke has already claimed to have seen something, and so Claire wants to make her own encounter. So, she roams around the empty rooms and hallways with an audio-recording device, hoping to see or hear a haunting spirit.

Aside from an annoyed single mother and her little son, the other guests at the hotel are Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), an actress who became a “psychic healer” who claims she is able to make contact with the spirits of the hotel and tries to warn Claire not to mess with what she doesn’t understand, and a decrepit old man (George Riddle) who comes to stay in the Honeymoon Suite because he wants the old memories brought back to him…yeah, how much do you want to bet something is wrong with this character?

“The Innkeepers” gets darker and darker as it goes along. Actually, it’s a little more lighthearted at the beginning, when we’re introduced to the characters of Claire and Luke. We see how they work, how they interact with one another, and it’s a believable “work-relationship” and friendship that maybe one of them wants to see as something more, but the other possibly doesn’t want to complicate things.

Then, the supernatural/paranormal element is introduced, and the tone becomes a little playful, with a certain amount of intrigue adding to the mystery as Claire continues to figure it out and talks with Luke about it. But then later on, it becomes clear that this hotel is haunted and the ghosts are definitely not to be trifled with. Remember, people—ghosts are generally tortured souls with no other ambition than to scare you silly or find some way to harm you.

The “ghost-story” aspect is sort of a by-the-numbers concept, but West makes up for it with atmosphere, great execution, and two particularly fine actors—Sara Paxton and Pat Healy—in the lead roles. One of the great examples of horror-movie filmmaking is that West allows the shot to linger and take its time with each scene, and then builds the suspense from that notion that something might happen. As a result, the audience is on edge throughout, thinking something is going to happen and nervously waiting for it.

Now, of course, when things go really, really wrong near the end of “The Innkeepers,” the characters have to make dumb decisions like go in “that room” or go down “those stairs” instead of—oh I don’t know—get out of that damn hotel because it is clearly haunted! I really wish that wouldn’t have been the case in which characters previously shown as bright and smart make dumb decisions to keep that particular “horror-movie” cliché.

But the amount of atmosphere and the characterization that you don’t find very often in mainstream horror movies are what make “The Innkeepers” chilling and quite memorable and definitely worth recommending. This filmmaker Ti West clearly respects the horror genre and is able to make good, smart horror movies that play with the standard elements and make them his own. After seeing both this and “The House of the Devil,” I have to be honest and say that I’d be interested in seeing his “director’s cut” of “Cabin Fever 2.”

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