DM Haight

It’s been a long time since a movie scared me. In fact, a movie hasn’t scared me since the first half of Insidious. Modern horror has been worse than stagnant. It’s been truly awful since Hollywood has elected to pump out remakes, expecting us, the audience, to enjoy them as much as we did a quarter century ago. But they have failed in that mindset, leaving us with a severe lack of ingenuity, and leaving an entire genre in a hole so deep that audiences worldwide regard it as more comical than frightening. But all that is being countered by some great independent directors, among them Ti West and his film, The Innkeepers. It was by far the scariest movie I have seen all year, and it is definitely worth a look. It gives us what we are truly missing in horror cinema these days: the scares, the story, and the characters. These elements have been abandoned by Hollywood in favor of gore, gore, gore. And to be honest, I have never watched a horror film on the edge of my seat until now.

With The Innkeepers, Ti West has revitalized horror. He gives us the story of Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), two employees working at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a hotel that is soon to be out of business. They don’t seem to mind that they will soon lose their employment, rather they enjoy talking about the supposed haunting of the old building, and Luke especially enjoys his computer. But upon the arrival of strange guests, things go from placid and playful, to creepy and unnerving. The spirit of Madeline O’Malley seems to be restless, and with the warnings of a visiting psychic, (Kelly McGillis), Claire is obliged to investigate the haunting with severe consequences. It doesn’t sound like it deviates too far from the conventional ghost story, and it doesn’t. What makes The Innkeepers so unique is that is does one thing very well—it creeps you out.

This is something Ti West did incredibly well with House of the Devil (2009). He manages to capture the scare through movement and expectation. The audience waits for the scare to come, expecting it to be around the next corner, behind the next pillar, waiting behind the characters. But he doesn’t give us the release we’ve become accustomed to. Instead he exploits the expectation, using the clichés we know come with horror films against us–with delightful results. He is slow and methodical with his style. He builds us up, lets us watch as these character slowly discover how deep they have allowed themselves to go. The Innkeepers gives us scares, but they earn them. Some may say the pacing is too slow, and when they compare the film to others in the genre, they may be right. But the pacing is what makes it work. The methodical, creepy build is what is lacking in horror cinema today. The desire to scare the audience with a monster or a killer is overwhelming, which ends up leaving us with a poor delivery and more of an unwanted sneer than a trembling hand. The Innkeepers gives us that trembling hand if you let it, and it gives us scares that we need, but not when we want them most. Like a good present, it has to wait to be opened.

The story is a story. It’s been told hundreds of times, and it is not entirely original. It is well written, memorable, but all the same, it’s been done before. Unlike House of the Devil, Ti West has chosen to create a film set in the here and now, which limits him a bit. But the execution is very well done. The former television star-turned-psychic, the persistent, eldritch old man at the front desk, the angry mom and her kid—they all work, which is more than can be said for a lot of other films with the same premise. The Innkeepers is a well-done parody of all the ghost hunting shows about supernatural phenomenon. It takes the stories we all know (and resentfully love) and turns them into a tale that, unlike those reality shows, actually manages to make you feel uneasy after watching it. Claire is a cute, mousey girl who just happens to be curious. She, like most heroines of horror, doesn’t appear as a sexualized object, which makes the film’s end all that more intriguing and thought provoking. Luke is just that nerdy guy who wants to get with the mousy girl. The characters are simple, but they are believable and relatable. They work well within the confines of the story: bumbling around the basement, meddling in matters they shouldn’t be. The enjoyable factor of the film comes with its familiarity, but the greatness of the film comes from its deviations. The Innkeepers is a film worth your time; and if you don’t believe, perhaps you should check in for a visit at the Yankee Pedlar Inn. Just make sure you check out alive.

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