Innkeepers, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/02/12 20:56:26
(Worth A Look)
A couple of years ago, I reviewed "House of the Devil," an 80's-influenced horror movie about a nubile college student hired for a babysitting job at a remote and spooky home that turned out to. . .well, I am fairly certain that you can pretty much figure it out from the title. While I didn't quite like it enough to recommend it--I admired the slow-burn approach that valued building an atmosphere of dread over cluttering things with cheap "BOO!" moments, the big payoff just didn't quite work for me (possibly because of the spoiler contained in the damn title)--I did note that it was made with a lot of skill by up-and-coming writer-director Ti West and that while he hadn't made a good film this time around, he demonstrated enough promise to make me eager to see what he would come up with next. That follow-up project has now arrived in the form of "The Innkeepers" and it turns out to have indeed been worth the wait after all. Like his previous film, it prefers to gradually create a sense of slow-mounting terror that derives its scares largely from what might be lurking around the corner rather than having monsters or maniacs leaping into the frame every few minutes. The end result may not be a classic but as straightforward scare flicks go, it delivers the goods and then some.The film takes place almost entirely within the walls of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a hotel in the town of Torrington, Connecticut long rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who died there after being jilted on her wedding day. Now the hotel is about to be shuttered for good and the only employees left to run the place during its final weekend of business are two twenty-something types with an interest in the paranormal--the dorky Luke (Pat Healy) and the adorable Claire (Sara Paxton)--who have developed a website devoted to the hotel and its history. In between taking care of the few remaining guests--the most notable being actress-turned-spiritualist Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis)--the two spend their considerable downtime goofing off, aimlessly jabbering and occasionally exploring the hotel with their gear to try to capture proof of any paranormal activity. As time goes by, things slowly begin to get weirder and weirder--the piano in the lobby appears to be playing itself, mysterious and disembodied voices can be heard whispering and a strange old man (George Riddle) arrives and insists on spending the night in a specific room in the already-shuttered third floor where he claims to have spent his honeymoon many years earlier--and without getting into too much detail, let it be said that all sorts of things soon begin to go bump in the night. . .and that is just for starters.
Admittedly, the premise behind "The Innkeepers" is familiar enough--it sounds like the kind of thing that a schlockmeister like Roger Corman might have cranked out back in the day in order to cash in on the hype surrounding "The Shining"--and while West doesn't exactly reinvent the haunted house genre here, he does manage to get a surprising amount of mileage out of the material thanks to his off-beat approach. Instead of presenting the expected tongue-in-cheek take, West gives us a reasonably serious and straightforward version that is a refreshing change of pace. (That said, there are still some very funny moments here and there as well.) Instead of presenting viewers with a structure that looks more like an orgy of production design than an actual abode, the building in question is an utterly ordinary-looking hotel (it is, in fact, an actual hotel that he and his crew stayed at while shooting "House of the Devil" nearby) and it is its nondescript nature that adds an extra edge to the proceedings thanks to the juxtaposition of the bland aesthetics with the gradually increasing levels of creepiness. Instead on constantly assaulting viewers with one contrived moment after another in which someone or something suddenly jumps in front of the camera for a quickie shock moment, West prefers to quietly develop a slowly building atmosphere of fear throughout the first two-thirds of the story that sucks viewers in and instead fills them with a palpable sense of dread over what could be lurking around the corner. (This is not to say that he isn't willing to go for a "BOO!" moment when the occasion presents itself.)
What really separates this film from similar genre outings is that it more or less keeps its feet grounded in reality throughout. The main characters feel like real people with recognizable behavior patterns rather than the walking cliches usually found in such films. (Sara Paxton is especially good here, more than making up for her work in the abysmal "Shark Night" in which she was asked to do little more than prop up a bikini.) The technology that our heroes employ seems to have come right off the shelf of the local Radio Shack and to judge from their general ineptitude with the equipment, it appears that neither of them bothered to actually read the instructions. When the eerie stuff begins in earnest, Claire and Luke tend to respond in the exact manner that you or I might if we were confronted with such things--they become increasingly freaked out and question the wisdom of they are hoping to accomplish. And then, having established a realistic context for his story in order to draw viewers in over the course of the first hour or so, West then makes his set-up pay off with a series of well-calibrated jolts that work not just because they have been deployed so effectively but because West has genuinely earned them.
It is amusing to note that this weekend sees the release of two resolutely old-fashioned ghost stories in "The Innkeepers" and "The Woman in Black." Both films have their virtues and are worth watching but if I had to pick one over the other, I would have to give the edge to "The Innkeepers." It is true that some of the more impatient viewers may become exasperated with the long fuse that West has set and decide that the final payoff isn't quite worth the extended buildup. If you are a sensation junkie that needs to have your senses knocked around every few minutes as a way of letting you know that you are getting the full value of your admission price, then "The Innkeepers" may not be your cup of tea after all. However, if you are one of those people who realize that the anticipation of something can often be more effective than the reveal, especially when it comes to horror films, then you will more than likely find "The Innkeepers" to be a hugely effective thriller that confirms Ti West as one of the more interesting new voices that the genre has seen in a long time.NOTE: "The Innkeepers" is now playing in theaters and is also available on many cable systems via the miracle of Video-On-Demand. While it plays perfectly well on the small screen, it is advised that if you do have a chance to see it on the big screen--preferably in an older, funkier theater and with an audience of like-minded horror buffs--you should not hesitate to watch it that way.
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