The Innkeepers - SideReel Review
While there’s certainly something to be said for the pleasures of a full-on splatter flick, subtlety is a quality that unfortunately is not much valued in horror films these days, but Ti West’s new picture The Innkeepers is truly refreshing in its willingness to take the slow and spooky route to suspense. The Innkeepers is at heart an old-fashioned ghost story with a few modern-day twists that bring it into the 21st century, and so much of the movie works so well that it’s unfortunate the same low-key approach that makes it such a pleasure undermines it in the final act.
The picture is set in the Yankee Pedlar, a hotel in Connecticut that has seen better days. Due to poor business the owners have decided to close down the hotel, and for its last week the staff has been reduced to two people, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), who sleep in the empty rooms when they’re not manning the desk. As it happens, there isn’t much to do at the Yankee Pedlar anyway, as the hotel has a mere three guests: a woman waiting for an apology from her husband who has her ten-year-old son in tow, and Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), a once-famous actress who is in town for a speaking engagement. Claire and Luke’s reasons for working at the Yankee Pedlar go beyond a paycheck; both have an interest in the paranormal, and it’s believed the hotel is haunted by the ghost of a woman who was murdered there many years ago. Luke says he’s seen the ghost and has created a website devoted to the story; he’s also brought a portable recording rig to the hotel in hopes of capturing the sounds of the phantom on tape. Despite all this, Luke is skeptical about much of the lore surrounding the ghost, and when Claire begins to hear curious noises and the sounds of a piano playing itself, he’s certain there’s some practical explanation for what’s going on. But Claire does have someone on her side -- in addition to her acting past, Leanne is also a psychic healer who believes in the supernatural, and she senses there is something real and potentially dangerous lurking at the Yankee Pedlar.
Director and screenwriter Ti West has cited Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as an influence and a personal favorite, and in many respects The Innkeepers plays like a simpler, more compact variation on that film’s themes. There’s an atmospheric old hotel, many long tracking shots down the corridors, folks going just a bit stir-crazy after long hours with little to do, a mysterious outsider who senses the paranormal occurrences, and a backstory of sinister doings which tie in to the present calamity. West doesn’t match the glorious dread that Kubrick summoned in his film, but The Innkeepers still has atmosphere to spare and slowly but surely builds an impressive degree of tension over the course of its first hour or so. West is ably assisted by his cast: Sara Paxton brings an understated girl-next-door charm to her role as Claire, Pat Healy’s Luke is a fine, smart-assed foil whose grumpiness doesn’t disguise his attraction to her, and Kelly McGillis is impressive as Leanne, displaying a depth and nuance which surpasses her best-known work of the 1980s and ’90s. West was also lucky to have Eliot Rockett as his cinematographer, as he gives the film a rich, elegant palate of colors and tones. But West’s light touch fails him in the movie’s last reel, as the finale doesn’t pay off with either the big scares or the dramatic revelations we’ve been expecting. It’s rare in this day and age to find a horror film that gets by on its charm, but The Innkeepers is one that does just that. Yet the charm, the style, and the strong performances don’t quite make up for the fact that West’s story doesn’t have much of an ending, and The Innkeepers is a film that doesn’t live up to its promise, even as it shows a flair missing from West’s earlier work.