in Movies

Film Review: Ti West’s “The Innkeepers” Feels Like Classic Haunted Horror

the innkeepers

Welcome to the opening article in a feature that I hope will become a mainstay of the website, provided that I actually have the discipline to keep up with it.

Without further ado, here is the first of “Max’s Netflix Reviews” (aka “Max is Very, Very Late to the Party”).

We’ve arrived at a point in horror film history when making a scary movie requires some serious meta thinking. Whether you blame it on lack of creativity or audience cynicism, it seems like tongue-in-cheek is the future. Don’t get me wrong, I like The Cabin in the Woods more than anyone really should, but sometimes it’s nice to watch something that doesn’t require an extensive mental catalogue of all horror movies in existence.

But where can you find something that is suitably old-school, comical, sorta scary, with great characters?

Enter Ti West’s 2011 film, The Innkeepers. Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) work at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a New England hotel that’s got one final weekend left open before its doors shut forever. The final two employees in a building with almost zero guests, Claire and Luke have free run of the place, allowing them to kick their search for spirits in the supposedly haunted hotel into high gear.

Luke’s got the gear and technical know-how (including a hotel haunting website), Claire’s got the gumption, and when an aging psychic decides to spend a couple nights at the hotel, the setup for horror is complete.

This starts off slow, though. I mean, real slow. Claire and Luke spend the entire first act facing nothing but their own bleak futures. Some light ghost hunting is thrown in, but mostly they work (not particularly hard). This is the beginning of a slow build that ultimately pays off beautifully. It’s rare when a horror movie spends time getting to know the characters, and this film does just that.

We get a glimpse into the main pair’s dynamic, which is great. There’s some light interaction between Claire and the annoying barista next door which makes Claire much more sympathetic to the viewer than she ever could have been otherwise. Essentially, West tries his best to create flawed but sympathetic characters, and it works great. When the ghosts inevitably come out to play, you genuinely want these two to make it out alive.

While this setup worked out for me, I can understand how it wouldn’t for everyone. The main plot is admittedly lax. The legend at the center of the haunting – bride kills herself when husband doesn’t show, original inn owners hide her body to keep the town from finding out – isn’t built on too much beyond its face value.

So much of the movie focused on the interactions between the main characters and the medium helping them make sense of the ghost’s motivations. I, however, am a total sucker for those hipster movies that are light on plot and heavy of couples wandering around on a magic night where anything can happen – so take that as you will.

The other thing I can anticipate true horror aficionados not being into is the lack of in-your-face horror. I mainly mean this in the sense that the typical jump-scares are pretty tame and sometimes groan-worthy. However, this seems more intentional than anything – one of the many tools used to ramp up tension.

And boy does this film have tension. It more than makes up for a lack of typical horror in the way that it builds atmosphere on top of tension, and wraps it in a fuzzy, blood-soaked blanket of dread. There’s some serious Shining-level anticipation at work here. The hotel is giant, historic, and creaky, while just the right amount of unexceptional to seem like the story could be happening in a quaint bed and breakfast near you.

The resolution pays it all in an interesting way, leaving you wondering exactly what happened, and it fits some nice metaphor in as well.

Before checking this out, I had heard of some other movies West had directed, most notably his work on The House of the Devil. From what I hear, it’s pretty similar. Now that I’ve seen The Innkeepers, I’ll definitely be checking it out.

Overall, this is a movie that is going to seem like a win if you’re a fan of the slow burn and the more cerebral aspects of the horror genre. Enjoy.

Photo: Dark Sky Films