To call Ti West's The Innkeepers
a horror film is a bit of a misnomer. While it certainly fits the classic definition of the term by sending its two hapless protagonists into a netherworld of utter terror, it fails wonderfully to deliver the things that the term “horror film” has evolved to mean. Mainly, it doesn’t have boobs and blood. From the studio that brought you
Where West's previous film House of the Devil
proved that tone could elevate simple characters and plot to a masterful level, The Innkeepers
proves a rule that many horror apologists espouse but few obey: good characters are the key to great scares.
The characters in question are Claire and Luke, the two remaining workers at the failing Yankee Pedlar Inn; small-town-types with even smaller dreams to make extra money with a crappy website hosting videos of the Pedlar’s ghostly guest, Madeline O’Malley.
Played by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy -- two faces you will recognize with names you might not -- Claire and Luke are at once the emotional core and comic relief of the film, infusing potentially static scenes with a delightful chemistry. Paxton’s Claire is an effusive, passionate, and innocent counterpoint to Healy’s Luke, a bitter, sarcastic washout. These two opposites spend countless hours bumming around the Yankee Pedlar’s empty rooms, flirting and creating their own shorthand banter. Claire’s emotional support manages to elicit small signs of manhood from Luke while Luke’s pervasive cynicism pushes Claire further out of her naivety and into a dark world of possibilities. Ladies first.
West’s script is loaded with subtext instead of exposition, giving these two actors a lot to play with. Every gag and one-liner carries with it a deep sense of longing; for Luke a longing for Claire’s affection and for Claire a longing to find a larger purpose than her dead end job. These layers make the film, especially the first two-thirds, a powder keg of tension as you begin to fall in love with these characters while being privy to the growing sense of doom.
When a mysterious new guest named Leane turns out to be a washed-up actress turned spiritualist (played stunningly by Kelly McGillis), she provides Claire the opportunity to truly investigate the strange occurrences in the hotel, sparking all that built-up tension and driving the story to its conclusion, which is unfortunately the weakest part of the film.In the Danger Zone.
West has a great knack for writing individual scenes with interesting characters and as a director his ability to create a perfect and consistent tone borders on brilliant, but his last two scripts have a tendency toward anticlimactic endings. Where House of the Devil
’s great flaw is that it gave the audience exactly what it wanted without anything it didn’t expect, The Innkeepers
doesn't deliver on any of its mystery. West reveals fairly early that the ghost is real, which is a refreshing choice amidst the slough of poorly conceived twist endings that bog down the genre. However with all the talk throughout the film of Madeline O’Malley and Leane’s reaction to the spiritual presence in the hotel that hints at something far greater than a normal haunting, the audience can’t help but expect a clever third act reveal.You never forget your first time.
While it’s trite to decry the emotional actions of horror movie characters when it’s possible for the audience, safe in its objective viewpoint, to nitpick every inconsistency in their internal logic, the real complaint with the final act of The Innkeepers
is not “no one would actually do that!” but instead “why would this
character do that?!” After taking so much time to set up such multi-layered characters, in the end they just behave as most horror film characters behave: investigating strange noises in the dark for no good reason and paying the price.
This might seem like a harsh critique, but despite an ending that succumbs the genre’s usual trappings, The Innkeepers
is a great little character piece filled with effective tension and some good laughs. It’s a must-own for horror fans and a must-see for folks that rail against a genre normally burdened with too much gore and not enough heart. The Innkeepers is produced by MPI/Dark Sky Films and will be available to purchase on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, April 24th. Blu-Ray special features:
Behind the Scenes; Commentary with Writer/Director/Editor Ti West, Producers Peter Phok & Larry Fessenden, and 2nd Unit Director/Sound Designer Graham Reznick; Commentary with Writer/Director/Editor Ti West and Stars Sara Paxton & Pat Healy