The Innkeepers (2011)
(15) Running time: 101 minutes
Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West
Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
After his last tale of nerve shredding terror, The House of the Devil, horror fans have been eagerly awaiting Ti West’s next film. The House of the Devil was regarded as one of the finest horrors of 2009, so all eyes were on whether West could pull off another magic trick, and guess what, he does! The Innkeepers is a magnificent horror, and one which follows the same basic principals as House of the Devil: a slow, absorbing build up to a frantic, scary as Hell finish. It is a formula which worked well with his previous film, although some (including myself) complained the ending was slightly rushed. We get the same here, but with the added bonus of two central characters, the ending (again short and terrifying) hits home much more effectively.
The film opens with a superbly eerie montage of images of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, the location we are about the spend the next one hour and forty minutes, and a chill sets in almost immediately. However, any sense of dread is quickly removed as we meet Claire (Paxton) and Luke (Healy): they are the last two employees of the Yankee Pedlar Inn (a real life haunted hotel) as the old place is now enjoying its final weekend in business. The pair are two of the finest written characters you will see in a horror for a very long time. They flirt with each other, and with danger, and plan to fully enjoy their final weekend at the Inn. With only a small number of guests, the pair are able to spend time enjoying each other’s company: Claire completely oblivious to poor, desperate Luke’s warm and friendly advances. Blimey, you almost want to jump into the TV and scream at Claire to notice the poor fella, and it makes for some seriously good natured and fun messing about. Witness as they poke fun at guests, ring the desk bell to annoy each other, talk about towels in the rooms, and end up apologising to guests. The first half is written almost as a comedy, and shows off West’s incredibly skills for writing and developing characters in a way that does not happen much in horror these days. Hell, if you do not care about these two when the shit hits the fan, then you have been watching a totally different film.
Luke does his best to impress Claire, announcing comically “I don’t know a lot, but I know a bit about a lot of things” This sort of writing is just brilliant, and gets far better like when Luke approaches Claire from behind, and in an attempt to not make her jump, does the total opposite as he bellows “I don’t wanna scare you but I am stood right behind you!” Whether you should be laughing or not, this is hilarious, heart-warming stuff, which makes the eventual bad stuff all the more upsetting. A few guests are in the hotel: a woman hiding from her husband, a celebrity woman who can talk to the spirits (whom proves quite useful) and a strange old man who will creep you out from the moment he appears on screen. The celebrity woman who can talk to the spirit world is sadly made fun of by Claire to begin with, but she soon proves an asset as curiosity gets the better of Claire and Luke.
See, Luke in his spare time, runs a very pathetic haunted house website which is quite clearly fake, and decides on their last weekend, to investigate the rumours of a ghost or two which inhabit the Yankee Pedlar. To get Claire hooked, he shows her one of those internet videos which require your full concentration before scaring you with a sudden image on screen with a loud burst of noise. It is something we have seen a hundred times before, and yet it works and it is not long before West really starts to crank up the tension. The beautiful relationship between the pair make way for some ghost hunting which becomes very frightening, and unbearably intense. Moments of terror are amplified by the simple use of sound coming out of headphones, or just complete quiet. West, in all his horror wisdom, keeps it real by adding zero gimmicks and just showing pure and true horror for what it should be. Quiet, dark corridors and eerie lighting and camera angles generate menace and fear, and the polished, authentic setting add a severe sense of comfort, yet utter paranoia. The scares may come quick, fast and sudden, but the atmosphere already conjured up by West make sure those scares work. The sudden, expected injection of powerful, all out horror really really delivers.
In short, West has taken all the ingredients that made House of the Devil so good, and cranked them up to a whole new level. If his previous film was your thing, then you will absolutely love The Innkeepers: it is a stylish, powerful, fun, well crafted and very near perfect tale of relationships and all out fear that come together like an explosion of all that is great about being scared. The Innkeepers is a gem, a unique horror that pulls no punches, and gets right under your skin and stays there. The atmosphere will engulf you, and the eventual scares will have you suffering sleepless nights for weeks. An incredible achievement, and proof once again that West is one of the finest directors in the horror genre, and he is truly becoming a real master of his art. See the Innkeepers, but it’s best not to do it alone.