DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Innkeepers

Tuesday 24 April 2012

The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers (2011) dir. Ti West
Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis


By Alan Bacchus

There’s much to admire in Ti West’s creepy and understated haunted house film in which a pair of lowly minimum wage underachievers attempt to capture the essence of an alleged ghost in a rundown mountain view hotel. It’s a playful film with a consciously restrained quality, a mix of comedy and suspense without ever succumbing to exploitative gore and horror. That said, there’s just not enough guts to this story to truly satisfy its audience beyond the atmosphere and tone.

Taking place largely in a single location, a quaint Victorian inn which comes off like a low budget version of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, West introduces us to Claire and Luke (Paxton and Healy), who are employed as the last two staff members of the inn on its last day before closing down. Luke, who runs a paranormal ghost hunting website, is there to take audio samples of a ghost named Madeline O'Malley, rumoured to have haunted its confines for decades, with the unambitious Claire tagging along mainly for the fun.

There are a few guests for the evening, each with their own idiosyncrasies that contribute to the uneasy feeling of dread. Kelly McGillis turns in a creepy performance as a has-been actress staying for the night. And the presence of an old man who arrives to spend one night in his old room to rekindle the feelings of his honeymoon is chilling.

West succeeds in creating the gothic tone of a Hammer Horror mystery, from the moody atmospheric music to the classical widescreen photography reminiscent of John Carpenter’s great films of the ‘80s, right down to the chapter breaks written in old gothic script and designed like 1920s title cards.

While The Innkeepers plays directly off of The Shining, West's aesthetic sensibilities resemble 1980's John Carpenter (i.e., The Fog, Prince of Darkness), floating his widescreen anamorphic camera through empty hallways with Carpenter-like panache. But unfortunately West is missing the bravura escalation of action and horror marked by both Carpenter and Kubrick. Indeed there is a ghost with a grisly backstory who looks downright scary in her brief flashes, but we simply don’t see enough of the spectre. With murky or non-existent motivations, we don’t ever see O'Malley as a character, thus we don’t really fear her either.

Ti West’s camerawork is teasing, building up a number of moments but rarely paying them off. For example, he crafts a terrific sequence in which Claire investigates an open cellar door. West gives us a traditional false scare when the terrifying silence is interrupted by a bird flying out of the dark space, but he leaves the scene without paying it off with a real punch. The cellar does come back into play in the final scene, but it’s still a wasted set piece, indicative of the underwhelming quality of the film as a whole.

The Innkeepers is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Entertainment One in Canada.

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