DIRECTOR Ti West WRITER Ti West STARS Sara Paxton; Pat Healy; Kelly McGillis DVD & BLU-RAY Now
Goodness, what a thoroughly enjoyable time this is — but probably only for those with an attention span on the longer side. Yes, The Innkeepers is slow-paced, yet here the film’s strength lies, making way for that ever increasingly rare of filmmaking tools: investment in characters. And how refreshing it is to spend time with some likeable examples; let’s face it, these are also rare in the modern horror story.
Set in the real-life Yankee Pedlar Inn, what we have is a haunted house tale. Said to hold the spirit of Madeline O’Malley, a jilted bride who hung herself on the premises, the hotel sells itself as such, however not proficiently, the business facing closure. We join its two last employees, Claire and Luke, as they quip their way through their final weekend on the job, the former determined to find some conclusive proof of the building’s paranormal activity.
There’s a distinct slacker feel in terms of rapport and dialogue here, complemented very well by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy’s charming performances. In fact it’s only really for specific moments that The Innkeepers very obviously feels like a horror film, the rest of the time an ambling, funny experience. And yet, those moments hold an effective creepiness, director/writer Ti West having wound up tension without my even noticing. I’m sure this is assisted by some exceedingly clever shots, whereby inoffensive background items hint at the presence of ghostly figures in the viewer’s peripheral vision throughout, but there is certainly an impressive element of je ne sais quoi to the screenplay. As such, our first deliberately spooky scene, where a visiting psychic (Kelly McGillis on fine form) warns of awaiting danger, referring to a mysterious ‘they’, sends chills down the spine. Simply wonderful stuff.
It’s not perfect. The decision to tell it in chapters was not entirely fitting, while the ghostly apparition of O’Malley does little to jolt, being far too obvious. Also, an open-ended climax — with a twist you really must peel your eyes for — does feel a little unsatisfying. Still, it is perfectly clear that in West we have an astute filmmaker; The Innkeepers could not be a more different film to The House of the Devil, with which he wowed horror fans in 2009. Next up will be V/H/S, which, going by efforts thus far, is a must-see.