The Innkeepers: slackers and spirits collide in surprisingly enjoyable psychological horror
Despite the clichéd premise of a geeky boy and a pretty girl in a haunted hotel, The Innkeepers is an immersive, suspenseful fantasy that quietly absorbs you in the small world it creates.
This world is almost entirely composed of the interior of The Yankee Pedlar Inn, a northern Connecticut hotel with a disturbed history of loathing and suicide. After 100 years of service, The Yankee Pedlar is going out of business. The two are employees at the inn, working together through its final weekend. The geeky guy, Luke (Pat Healy) has set up a website containing evidence of paranormal activity he claims to have experienced at the hotel. He is somewhat cynical in his attitude while his colleague Claire (Sara Paxton) is sincerely intrigued by the idea. Together they set about trying to prove the Inn is really haunted before it is demolished to make room for a car park.
A large part of the film’s power to captivate comes from the small strokes of detail with which Luke and Claire are drawn. As writer and director Ti West has commented, he has taken distinctly modern characters and placed them in an old-fashioned horror plot where they don’t really belong. The Innkeepers coaxes out an empathy with its characters before any horror starts, making us care about their troubles and anxieties regardless of the supernatural dimension. Both are directionless and insecure; Luke is cynical, laconic and porn-obsessed, Claire diffident and impressionable.
West embeds enough satisfying nuggets of dialogue, humour and character to keep us engrossed in the slowly unfolding story. West does an excellent job of unobtrusively creating a bond between the audience and his protagonists, weaving in a small cast of minor, comic characters whose foibles make for entertaining in-jokes. Even as we chuckle at them these characters simultaneously reflect something of our own fears and failings. The atmosphere of a long boring night of work haunted by purposelessness gives way to a much more deadly eruption of horrors.
Bridging the gap between these two forms of torment is Kelly McGillis as Leanne-Rease Jones, a once-successful actress who claims to have found her destined calling as a psychic and healer. She is one of the hotel’s few guests during its final weekend. She aggressively draws out Claire’s self-doubts and becomes an understanding ally as the violent forces of the spirit world appears. Again, a scene that should by all rights collapse into cliché: grey-haired Leanne communing with spirits as naïve blonde Claire looks on. Leanne remains a delightfully enigmatic presence to the end.
Alongside unusually well-drawn characters for the horror genre, West’s cinematic craftsmanship adds a great deal to the film’s power. The camera weaves sinisterly through the inn’s dim lit corridors and by the end of the film you will feel like you could find your way around – from the reception to the laundry room, up the stairs winding between three floors, and (of course) through a peeling door into the black, labyrinthine basement. The film was entirely shot on location in the real Yankee Pedlar, where West stayed while shooting The House of the Devil, and the inn gradually develops a brooding presence all of its own. This camera work combines with a disorienting use of sound – at times oscillating between each speaker – to effectively escalate the suspense, particularly the growing threat that invisibly closes on Claire as the weekend progresses.
The Innkeepers is very much in West’s style. It is far-removed from many contemporary horror movies – perhaps most egregiously The Devil Inside – in which dramatic violence and effects are heavily relied on to provoke audience response. The film is light on gore and even lighter on actual depictions of viciousness. Rather than being boring, though, there is something very satisfying in the length of time West manages to sustain our attention before any brutality occurs. It is a marked contrast to other genre staples such as Wolf Creek, which suffered from precisely the kind of premature ejaculation West skilfully avoids – 30 minutes of successfully suspenseful build-up, followed by an hour of tiring torture and slaughter.
I was braced in my seat for much of the second half, keeping my hands far from any exposed skin they could pinch or slap when the hotel’s terrors finally showed themselves. Ultimately, the culminating scenes aren’t quite as gripping as the expertly fermented anticipation but with its memorable characters and subtly-handled awareness that the best ghost stories are projections of our own psychological fears, The Innkeepers is a keenly enjoyable slice of cinema.
The Innkeepers is released nationwide on 8th June 2012.
Watch the trailer for The Innkeepers here:
To have a chance to win the two tickets for the preview screening of Innkeepers, take a minute to answer the question below and send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org together with your full name and address. The competition ends tomorrow, 24th May at 4pm. The screening is on Thursday 24th at 8.30pm, at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square.
When is The Innkeepers going to be released in the UK?
A) 25th May
B) 1st June
C) 8th June
D) 15th June
Terms & conditions:
- This promotion is open to UK residents only.
- Closing date is 24th May 2012 at 4pm.
- There is no cash or other alternative to the prize stated, the prize is not transferable and no part or parts of the prize may be substituted for other benefits, items or additions.
- Winners will be picked at random and contacted as soon as possible.
- Prize consists of two complimentary tickets for the preview of The Innkeepers.
- The editor’s decision is final and binding on the entrants. No correspondence will be entered into.