In a companion piece to Henry Hill’s review of Ti West ‘The House Of The Devil, this one will look at his follow-up, The Innkeepers. While not as good as House Of The Devil, it’s still a well-crafted horror film with some effectively creepy moments that guarantee West as a name in modern horror to be remembered.
The film is set at The Yankee Pedler, a once grand hotel now in its final weekend, during its last moments the only two employees on hand, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), are tasked with looking after the two or three guests before the hotel shuts its doors for good. Bored out of their minds, Claire and Luke start investigating the supposedly haunted hotel for any sign of its ghostly background, most notably that of Madeline O’Malley, a bride who hung herself when her husband left her on their wedding day.
As the night goes on, the silent hotel slowly starts to creep up on Claire as unexplained events starts occurring around her, with little help from one of the hotel’s guest who works as a psychic and even less from Luke, Claire’s attempts to find out the truth take her down a dangerous and disturbing path of the hotel’s history.
It’s a very slow-burn plot though after House that’s to be expected from West. Perhaps a little too slow, it does take a while for all the hidden shadows and strange visions that Claire has to come together and the ending might be a little iffy for some people but it worked, there’s an air of ambiguity behind the whole thing and nothing’s ever taken at face value. It’s somewhat typical haunted house fare but for what it is, it was pretty good.
Characters were kept to a minimum, outside of Clair and Luke there was only about three guest and even then two of them were barely in it, there was a mother and her young son who had their own storyline playing elsewhere and an elderly man who had his honeymoon in the hotel and came for one last visit, in more ways than one.
The only guest to play a big part in the film was Leanne Rhyss-Jones (Kelly McGillis), a former Television actress turned psychic medium who is in town for a convention. While Leanne’s role is small it is important, because we’re never given a direct answer to whether she truly does have psychic abilities or not the things she experiences and warns Claire about are left up in the air as to their authenticity and more to the point, whether or not she’s actually sensing the presence of spirits. It adds to the ambiguity of it all, McGillis is very good in the role, often taking a large swig of whatever booze is on hand before talking to the dead, but it’s her ability to cross the lines between gifted psychic and delirious fraudster that makes the role worth it.
The main two characters of Luke and Claire both work because they’re diametrically opposites and yet share a common background and sense of humour. Luke didn’t get as much to do but his sardonic, easily displeased and quickly frightened personality made him feel like a very human character, he was obviously very bored of his work but at the same time disappointed that he’d never seen a ghost before in the supposedly haunted hotel and was using this final night to prove that there was something there. Luke was real and while there could’ve been more seen of him, his absence works in favour of Claire’s character, plus with the two of them on 12 hour shifts it wouldn’t have made sense for him to stay around so it’s easy to look past that.
Claire was in essence the lead character and again a very real protagonist. Unlike Luke’s sarcastic nature, Claire was much more prone to loud outbursts of shock which might sound bad but the film had a strange sense of humour about it and Paxton’s determined performance allowed Claire to be funny in her over-the-top reactions whilst remaining a very likeable character, her freak-outs felt genuine, funny yeah but at the same time you can’t deny that you wouldn’t have the same reaction. Much like Luke Claire worked because she felt real, her sheer terror at seeing a piano play by itself, her giddy starstrucked face when meeting Leanne for the first time, her ‘why am I doing this?’ attitude when taking the trash out, Claire was a very easy person to recognise and Paxton’s likeable performance helped her carry the film.
Ti West kept a very similar direction to House Of The Devil in that it was a slow-burner with some creepy imagery. As previously said though this film is perhaps too slow, House worked because of its throw-back 70s atmosphere whereas this one is a much more modern fare, it’s not terrible but there are times when you find yourself waiting for something to happen a lot more and while there was some good jump moments they only fed into the appetite rather than sating it.
Still though if you have the patience for a slow-burn then you will get something out of this film, one such nice surprise was the amount of humour involved. This’ll never call this a comedy but you’ll laugh a lot more than you think, partly with Claire’s reactions to everything and partly for the fun she and Luke had when not taking anything seriously. It added a light-heartedness to the whole thing which made the slow descent into more serious horror all the more noticeable, when the fun and games stop that’s when you finally know that shit just got real.
West has really found a niche market in being able to accentuate the creepiness of an image through the use of shadows and angles, it dots it in and around the film with sudden looks at the Madeline wedding ghost and a very disturbing scene with a bathtub, all of which gradually builds and builds until the last twenty minutes when things suddenly burst out from under you and you’re left with no clue as to what is really going on. As slow as this film is at times it does work out in the end in regards to saving it’s big scare moments for the end and building up to those moments rather than just playing its cards early and turning the rest of the film into nothing.
While The Innkeepers isn’t as well-crafted as House Of The Devil it’s still brought another winner from West whose a name is one to keep an eye out for in future, it brings a haunted house storyline to a hotel with a past, a couple of realistic performances from its’ leads with Sara Paxton’s easily relatable heroine carrying the film on her terrified shoulder and a slow-burn, high creep direction that puts this above a lot of modern horrors that miss the point.
3 and a half hairpieces out of five. Maybe just touching a 4 but not quite making it.