Movie review: ‘The Innkeepers’ (2011)

In theaters and On Demand

“The Innkeepers,” written and directed by Ti West, 100 minutes, rated R.

By Anthony Crabtree, Guest Blogger

I remember the first time I read about Ti West — it was in a Film Comment article about the mumblecore movement. West’s name was mentioned briefly at the end as someone who is part of the mumblecore movement, but who works in the horror genre. Intrigued by this idea, I sought out his first feature length film, “The Roost.” If not a perfect film, it still worked, and it attempted to connect with the audience through nostalgia and realistic characters — something long missing from the horror genre.

In a similar vein, “The House of the Devil,” the second film from West, was an ’80s-inspired horror film that fans had been longing for, and the movie found more critical success than “The Roost.”

West’s fifth feature-length film, “The Innkeepers,” centers around the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a hotel believed to be haunted that is on the verge of closing its doors for good. Two of the hotel’s employees, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), are the only staff members on duty during the hotel’s last weekend, and they’re determined to record evidence of ghosts inside the premises.

The concept is simple and classic, but one of the ways “The Innkeepers” elevates itself above most other horror films is by creating unique and genuine characters that West has become known for. In this case we have Claire, an easily excitable and easily scared asthmatic, a combination that allows for both moments of comedy and intensity. Paxton does an outstanding job in this role, never going over the top, and finding the perfect approach to make her humorous and likable. Similarly, Pat Healy could have gone for a stereotypical nerd with Luke, but he never takes the performance too far into that territory, opting more for sincerity than leaning on cliches.

Along with the cast, the film’s location is straight out of a classic haunted house movie. The Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is a real hotel, has an eerie look that is almost indescribable. The wallpaper lining the rooms seems like something you might find in Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” or even Kubrick’s “The Shining.” West takes advantage of his location, creating tense shots by simply going down hallways or exploring areas of the hotel in the dark.

One portion involves Claire attempting to capture EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) by herself in the dark hotel. Starting out in the laundry room, she moves her microphone slowly to and fro, all the while the camera follows her microphone, hearing everything that it’s pointing at. She travels through different rooms, slowly moving her microphone, and the entire time there’s an ominous feeling in the air, dreading what she (and in turn, we) could discover. Even when she’s only hearing static, the lack of noise creates suspense. Not to mention, things actually become frightening when she does begin to hear things in this large, nearly empty hotel.

West has crafted a piece of cinema that is unlike anything we see today, especially in the horror genre. His trick is to focus on creating endearing and relatable characters, which then lends a heightened level of tension to every scene or situation because, to the viewer, they matter Simply put, “The Innkeepers” is one of the best haunted house movies I’ve seen in years. While “Insidious” was fun, and the “Paranormal Activity” series is mostly passable entertainment, Ti West has achieved something much greater.

Grade: A

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