Horror. Worldview. Faith.

The Innkeepers – Review

The Innkeepers – Review

Oct 2, 2012

reviewed by Danny
directed by Ty West, 2011

The Innkeepers has a pretty unique exposition.  Claire works at a inn that is going out of business.  The owner has left town and fired every employee other than Claire and the nerdy Luke.  In order to be able to cover all the shifts for the final weekend, Claire and Luke are forced to sleep at the inn while switching out every so often to work the desk.  The inn, we learn early on, is possibly haunted by former guest who “never left.”  That is the film’s simple concept, and it is a good one.  From there, it is easy to imagine any number of ways Ti West, who both wrote and directed, could take this film.  Unfortunately, The Innkeepers doesn’t live up to its promise, at least not to the extent that West’s wonderful debut, The House of the Devil did.

Like House of the Devil, The Innkeeprs is deliberately paced.  We spend the entire first act of the film watching Claire and Luke going through their mundane duties and dealing with needy guests.  Sure, we get introduced to a few details we will need later—for instance, Claire and Luke are building a website about the inn’s ghostly history.  One current guest is a former television star turned psychic healer.  Claire and Luke are trying to capture EVP in order to prove that the inn is haunted.

Despite these horror tropes, The Innkeepers really doesn’t build any sense of dread, even after ghostly events actual start occurring. West did a masterful job in House of the Dead with slowly ratcheting up the tension so that the bloody ending came as both a shock and a kind of release.  Here, I didn’t really become engrossed until the blood really hits the fan in the last twenty minutes of the movie.

I think West sneaks in a symbol of what he is trying to do in his films early on. Luke says he has an amazing video from a “real ghosts” website to show Claire.  We watch the video as Claire does.  On screen a camera slowly pans toward a static rocking chair.  Since it is a ghost website, Claire and we are all waiting for the rocking chair to move.  Eventually a ghostly face pops into full view accompanied by a loud scream.  The video scares Claire (you mileage may vary), and it is easy to see the video as symbolic of West’s style.  Get people ready for something to happen then hold off on it long enough that when they finally get to see it, it feels like a wonderful present.  That worked well for House of the Devil but less well here because early on it feels like we are watching a movie about the working-class doldrums, not a horror film.

Another reason it might not have worked for me is the paucity of characters.  Horror films need potential victims that we care about, like Claire, but they also need fodder so that we can see that there really is threat in the world.  The Innkeepers just has too few characters and we only ever see the world from Claire and, to a much lesser extent, Luke’s eyes.

I really wanted to like The Innkeepers, and I did like the concept and the last act very much.  There is a scene in the basement near the end where Claire reveals a ghost in the searching beam of her flashlight.  It is one of the most frightening and creepy ghost reveals I’ve seen (probably my favorite since The Devil’s Backbone first shows us Santi).  Still, in the end, it is hard to recommend The Innkeepers because it’s a horror film that just isn’t scary for 3/4ths of its length.  The good parts are still good enough that I’m interested in seeing what West does next.

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