The Film: The Innkeepers (2011)
The Principles: Ti West (Writer/Director). Sara Paxton. Pat Healy. Kelly McGillis.
The Premise: Two workers at a quaint little hotel/B&B called The Yankee Pedlar (it’s a real place!) use its (fictional) last operating weekend before closing its doors to look for the ghost that reportedly haunts the place.
Is It Good: Eh? A more fitting question would be “Is it enjoyable?” and the answer would be “sure!” Because it is. But good?
Ti West is a dude who’s getting a fair amount of attention lately, due largely in part to the fairly brilliant marketing scheme for his The House of the Devil. It wasn’t his feature debut, per se, but it certainly served as his genre coming out party the way something like Cabin Fever 2 never could. But when it dropped the buzz did too, with several people giving it the metaphorical finger (even with an 86% Fresh rating, it seemed like all you ever read were negative things). Not me though – I really enjoyed it. The ending deserved a really healthy side-eye and it got a little lost on its way from point a to point b, but the fact that West was able to ratchet the tension up to almost unbearable levels without resorting to parlor tricks almost effortlessly was enough to keep me in the film’s corner, blemishes and all (caveat – all of the above is written with the fuzzy recollection that comes from being so far removed from my first and only viewing, but those are the things that stuck with me). So, naturally, when I heard about this I was fairly excited.
And, to go back to the initial point – it’s enjoyable (long way around, yo). But as enjoyable as it is, the fact remains that – narratively, anyway – it’s a clumsy goddamn mess. Have you ever listened to someone tell a story, but they forget key pieces here and there, randomly remember pieces in other places and linger on certain points for too long while they try to remember where to go next? That’s The Innkeepers. The pacing’s a mess, it’s about 20 minutes too long (and it sometimes feels like it’s about an hour too long) and West makes a point to introduce characters and plotlines and build them up only to leave them hanging completely. Narratively it’s like that ghost story Homer Simpson told: “…and then his wife comes through the door!” “And?” “Did I mention she was dead?” “No.” “Oh, well she was.” Only it stops with us saying “…and?” and the credits roll.
So no – it’s not good, in the basic sense.
Is It Worth A Look: But like I said – it is enjoyable. A lot of what Ti West was able to inject into HotD in terms of tension and atmosphere are very prevalent here and, in some ways, have improved. It takes its sweet ass time getting there, but once it gets scary it gets downright scary, something that’s hard to say honestly about a lot of modern genre efforts. So definite points for that. And yes, while it does have a hard time figuring out what a proper slow burn is, the leads are likeable enough that it never really feels like a chore going along for the ride. Especially Sara Paxton. It took me a little while to warm up to her, but she ended up being just the right amounts of charming and dorky while still being able to sell “absolutely fucking terrified.” Sprinkle in some truly unsettling makeup effects and West’s familiar yet just fresh enough camera style and you wind up a with a movie that can be critiqued and prodded and picked apart 9 ways from Sunday, but it’s still fun to watch…assuming, of course, that you didn’t just absolutely hate House of the Devil, because this isn’t any better overall.
Random Anecdotes: I mentioned earlier that the Yankee Pedlar was indeed a real place, and not only did West borrow the name, he actually shot it on location. What’s extra cool about this is that this is the same hotel the cast and crew stayed at during House of the Devil’s filming, and hearing one of the employee’s many ghost stories about the place (along with West and the crew’s own strange experiences) is what prompted him to make this film. So that’s neat!
Cinematc Soulmates: The Shining. House of the Devil. Motel Hell. Poltergeist. That one episode of Supernatural. Insidious.