The Innkeepers

19 Feb

Title: The Innkeepers
Year: 2012
Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West
Starring: Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, Kelly McGillis
MPAA Rating: R, some bloody images and language
Runtime: 100 min
IMDb Rating: 5.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Metacritic: 64

As far as horror movies go, The Innkeepers doesn’t break any new ground or anything, not even close, but it’s a solid enough entry in the genre and after The House of the Devil and now this one I think Ti West is becoming a director that we can trust to bring in some nice scares. He just has something as a writer-director of the genre that works for me, a really neat and distinct visual style on one hand as well as the ability to give his screenplays room to breathe, not overbearing us with horror clichés but inserting some nice humor and human stuff to really make it work. That really was great to me, the way Mr. West handled his characters, writing them with empathy and making them regular people instead of our typical horror movie stereotypes.

The film is set in the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a haunted hotel in Connecticut which is about to shut its doors for good, only a few rooms still open for its last weekend receiving guests. Luke and Claire, played by Pat Healy and Sara Paxton, are the remaining employees who, considering the very few guests checking in on that weekend don’t necessarily need that much of their attention, decide to devote their last days of work to uncover proof that the hotel is, indeed, haunted, which of course ends up being more than they bargained for. But it’s done in the style of Mr. West who’s a filmmaker that believes in the slow-burning kind of scares, he takes his time, he builds up an atmosphere; some people may find that irritating, but I liked that quite a bit.

It’s kind of cool how Mr. Healy and Ms. Paxton play these kind of slackers on the job, just hanging out with too much downtime and too little actual work to be done. We get acquainted with the guests for the weekend that include a strange old man, a mother and her son taking a weekend off from domestic issues, and Kelly McGillis’ character, Leanne, a former actress who stepped down from that more glamorous profession to specialize in all sorts of supernatural occurrences and who happens to know a helluva lot about the haunted hotel, so she lends her expertise to Luke and Claire.

For all the spooky stuff the film alludes to, however, you always get the sense that Mr. West was crafting a film in which the scares were more of the existential kind, specifically being in your mid-twenties and being stuck in a dead-end job that gave you nothing of substance to do. He uses that to quietly and patiently build up the scary stuff, the long nights in an aimless job in which two employees start hypothesizing about ghosts in order to keep themselves entertained; and we actually like these characters, we kind of empathize with them, to the point in which even if nothing had happened regarding to those ghosts I think I would give The Innkeepers the same grade I’ll give it now, plus it would have been more in keeping with the fact that never ever seemed to happen there for these guys.

It’s just awesome to see this done, you know. I watched The Woman in Black on Thursday night and I was super appreciative about how it was essentially an old-school horror flick; this time around The Innkeepers has me feeling the same level of appreciation, it has a director that doesn’t like the cheap thrills blatant shock-scares can generate, but who clearly believes in the actual power horror films can have when they’re well made and rely on the audience’s imagination to do a bit of the work for them.

There will be people that won’t like The Innkeepers, surely, because to make a horror film about the anxieties that come from not doing much at all and to show the psychological machinations of the people doing nothing the film has to have a lot of moments in which not a whole lot goes on. There’s conversations between Luke and Claire and a couple of interactions with the guests, but not much else, it’s like the aforementioned The Woman in Black in so far as that it’s a traditional ghost story, but it’s also very modern in that the characters are just generation X slackers. If you find this film boring it’s because the only horror you’ve consumed is the cheap kind in which thrills are a buck a dozen but that don’t accumulate to much, and in that case I pity you for not being able to appreciate the amazing control Mr. West has over the timing of his film, how he crafts a terrific slow-burn effect.

It’s sad that films like The Innkeepers are just getting limited release while horrible films that just throw loud noises and images at you are raking in the millions. People should really get to experience horror films like this one, horror films that are not only about the scares that leave your mind the second you leave the theaters, but ones that invest time and effort into scaring you with actual stuff that you can relate to. The Innkeepers with its regular characters does just that, and establishes Ti West as a director of the genre we should keep an eye on. And there’s also Lena Dunham as a barista which makes this one earn extra brownie points from me.

Grade: B

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