The Innkeepers (2011)
Directed by Ti West
There is a king of the slow burn horror movie and his name is Ti West. West, who's filmography includes The Roost, Cabin Fever 2 and The House of Devil has made a name for himself in the methodically paced horror movie. I was not a fan of this in The House of the Devil writing:
"However, at the end of the day the movie is a wicked slow slow slow burn. It takes so long to get to the nitty gritty that no Red Bulls were helping to keep me awake."
However, in The Innkeepers the slow burn has hills and valleys and surprisingly has humor in it filled with cleverisms and pop culturisms that rescue it from being engulfed in eternal boredom. It dabbles in LOLs while fine tuning a ghost story as it's central premise. What you get is a fun, mish mash of amateur ghost hunter hipsters making contact with the ethereal plain which slowly evolves The Innkeepers into a non laughing matter.
The Innkeepers is smart enough to know it's audience and by doing so gives us an old fashioned spooky throwback ghost story that balances the line between being cute and scary. The characters are drones, the guests are odd and the ghosts are cliched visual jump scares. With all the said, I still had a few problems with West's lack of a firepower ending and his overabundance to drag the movie into zzzzzzzzzzz territory but some things can be overlooked when I'm having fun.
But I'm all for the nostalgia for my vintage Poltergeists for the new millennium. The Innkeepers could be Generation X's's answer to that 80s classic.
After over one hundred years of service, The Yankee Pedlar Inn is shutting its doors for good. The last remaining employees - Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy)- are determined to uncover proof of what many believe to be one of New England's most haunted hotels. As the Inn’s final days draw near, odd guests check in as the pair of minimum wage “ghost hunters” begin to experience strange and alarming events that may ultimately cause them to be mere footnotes in the hotel’s long unexplained history.
When you do a supernatural horror movie, you can possibly go one of two ways. You can go all LOLs or you could go deadly serious. It seems Ti West elected to do both. In The Innkeepers, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are hotel worker drones who man the Yankee Pedlar Inn (in CT) for one last weekend before it goes out of business. There is a history of dread, as the hotel has a legend of Madeline O'Malley, whose death in a cellar has caused her to haunt this now defunct hotel.
The movie revolves around the dynamic of our hipster duo. Luke documents the history of his paranormal workplace on a website while Claire is in awe of a famous old timey actress (who she adores) that has checked into the hotel. Both are realistic drones who burn their boredom away with clever dialogue, actual job duties, beer and a search for scientific proof of the supernatural.
Staying at the hotel 24/7, they take shifts but at night, Claire goes all Fox Mulder and starts hearing the creeks and squeaks of something not right. It's here West goes all slow burn, hovering above Claire as she searches the remnants of a hotel (sometimes in full daylight) other times in the dead of night. Sara Paxton has a mesmerizing quality that made me buy into her performance. Claire is an asthmatic, everyday girl whose ambition has slowly died away. Paxton's performance is quirky stellar, similar to that of the cutout of a "hot gamer girl" but in this case "hot ghost hunter girl".
Pat Healy's Luke is goofball lovable. He's the horror geek, bad at web design, obsessed with the supernatural and possibly infatuated with his partner in crime. And his performance is not condescending to us horror hipsters at all. I could easily call these characters my friends.
But West wants to make sure that you get just enough haha's before he unleashes his House of the Devil style slow burn jump scares. And don't worry you get some eerie buildup of falsehoods and glimpses of either hallucinations, dreams or actual paranormal phenomenon. The fact that it's vague is part of the charm all the way to the end. It's almost a perfect film in how the atmosphere gets built up (a lost art in my opinion) and a perfect blueprint feature resembling those viral Internet videos with the "actual ghost footage" that leads to a growly scream of a "ghost" that usually scares the shit out of you.
My gripes, though few, are the things I originally said about House/Devil. I appreciate the false alarms but they take fuckin a Lord of the Rings trilogy to get there. Other characters such as Leanne Rease-Jones (played by Kelly McGillis) is the equivalent of the guy who always knows about the legend. Leanne plays a healer/medium who senses danger but elects to stay at the creepy hotel anyway. A few more guests make appearances but none add to the overall film.
Finally, I still don't think Ti West knows how to end a film. With such buildup, one demands an ending which can hold up the entire movie. Instead, West goes all conventional and I was a bit disappointed. I'm not looking for some M. Night Shalatwisters, but it still felt a little flat.
But as I said before The Innkeepers is damn fuckin smart. Characters react as I thought I would react, they get nervous, stammer and crack jokes like I would. Call me a horror hipster too. I'm not ashamed. The Innkeepers is a Generation X ode to the horror ghost story that younglings will like but keep us hardcore aged horror fanatics on our toes. I love my nostalgia not remade but repackaged in original creative tales. Ti West has finally made a movie I liked, nay loved. That's a first.
The slow burn horror king has built a kingdom with a unique style, flair and has a treasure room of all those very familiar cliches. Sometimes royalty shares the wealth with the people and Ti West does just that. Hopefully the 99% will see The Innkeepers for the gem that it is.
Sara Paxton shows some leg (she's so damn cute!)
The first encounter with Madeline O'Malley
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
The Innkeepers will premiere on Video in Demand on December 30th, 2011. It'll be in theaters on February 3rd, 2012 courtesy of Magnet Releasing. The film is in conjunction with Dark Sky Films and Larry Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix.
The Innkeepers is definitely going to find a place on my Top 10 of 2011 list. If you're looking for a quality old fashioned spookster, this is the perfect film.