Synopsis: During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees determined to reveal the hotel’s haunted past begin to experience disturbing events as old guests check in for a stay.
Stars: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, Lena Dunham
Director: Ti West
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: The passing of the horror torch is well underway. With some of the legendary masters (Wes Craven, John Carpenter, George Romero) getting up there in years it’s natural that a new crop of the next generation of horror directors have started to make their mark in recent years. One director who is quickly moving to the head of the class in my book is Ti West. After being impressed with West’s The House of the Devil (which had a treasure trove of shocking twists and nerve jangling turns), I was looking forward to his latest spooky effort, The Innkeepers.
It’s rare that any director outside of period drama would spend so much time on the careful set-up and slow burn that West employs with The Innkeepers. In fact, it’s that very style that may turn off many viewers that are looking for the scares to come fast and furious after some initial characters/location introduction. What West has made here is another nod to the old-school horror films of the 60’s and 70’s where the payoff is in the final reel after much has been explained.
The setting couldn’t work any better. The last weekend of operation for the Yankee Pedlar Inn finds its two slacker employees battling with each other, a few guests, and a possible entity that haunts the quaint inn. With its cramped hallways and dark corners, there are a lot of scares for West to go after but instead he chooses to take the audience cautiously along on a swell ride up the roller coaster of fear until we finally reach the top and plunge into a very scary final act.
Like a rollercoaster though, the payoff may not live up to the expectations of those that have arrived at The Innkeepers with sky-high expectations. The House of the Devil played out in much the same way with a gradual ramping up of creepy situations until a too-brief finale that, while scary, wasn’t as satiating as it could have been. Even with a high score from me, I want to make sure your expectations are tempered so that the film you see is more enjoyable in the long run.
As Claire and Luke, Paxton and Healy are an amiable pair of actors that engage us with their playfully realistic banter. Though we don’t get a lot of backstory on either character, West and his actors have given us enough present information to go off of that we understand some of the motivations behind a few of the more questionable moves both make in the course of the evening. A nice turn by McGillis as a troubled (and grumpy) psychic makes the trio of lead cast members feel uniformly in line with the creepy atmosphere.
Working with a limited budget in an actual operating in, West works wonders with his limited amount of filming time. There’s a strong sense of a “Let’s put on a show” nature that permeates through every level of the film from performance to costuming to production design. West clearly knows how to stage a scene for maximum scare delivery and there are a few moments that had me squirming in my seat. It all builds to a satisfying climax that doesn’t cheat and holds our characters accountable for their actions.
In this brave new world of horror films, West is a growing light in a pretty dark climate. He’s delivered an arguably tame yet effectively spooky film with The Innkeepers that has led to more work for him in the coming year (he has two films in development and directed a segment for the recent anthology horror film V/H/S). The Innkeepers is worthy of a watch…especially as we head into the colder weather with the leaves falling and the days getting shorter.