Film: Innkeepers, The (2011)
Label: n/a/ Region: n/a / Released: n/a
Genre: Horror / Supernatural / Thriller
Synopsis: Two clerks in a soon-to-be-shuttered hotel decide to make contact with the supernatural world with lethal consequences.
Special Features: n/a
In The House of the Devil (2009), Ti West crafted a deliberate homage to the early eighties slasher films, and in that instant classic he nailed the music, fashions, and ‘scope cinematography of vintage slashers, but he also found a balance between his keen interest in character banter, and the kind of slow pacing for which he’s well-known, and not always beloved by some horror fans.
West doesn’t make homages per se, but he’s meticulous in sustaining eerie moods by manipulating open spaces within the wide ‘scope ratio, and prolonging moments of unnerving nothingness before a simple shock, usually punctuated by a loud sonic effects (a cheap effect, but always successful when piped through a theatre’s robust 5.1 system).
The Innkeepers follows the same slow-build in which characters hang out for a while before they’re teased and eventually immersed in some horrific menagerie. The film’s premise is wholly sound – two clerks decide to have fun on their last weekend on the job and capture ‘proof’ of the ghosts that haunt The Yankee Pedlar Inn, a little house that grew into a block-sized hotel that’s slated to be shuttered.
West doesn’t state any specific time period, but judging by the décor and dead tech, it’s safe to assume the film’s two hotel clerks are trapped between the years 1998 – 2000, because the most sophisticated computer at hand is a chunky laptop running Windows 98 (or XP, with a classic design layout). The tape recorder that college drop-out Luke and waifish Claire use to capture otherworldly sounds transgressing into their reality is a beat up clunker, and Luke’s personally designed website to house and exploit his ghost tales and A/V proof of afterlives is a complete throwback to the basic HTML pages with facile GIFs used by start-up web designers.
It’s a geek thing, but certainly if set in and around 1998, there’s less convenient gear which would easily save the pair when they realize the hotel where they’ve worked together for a while is wholly haunted. No one has a cell phone to instantly call for help, and no social media with which the characters can manically interact with concerned fans and detail their final efforts towards achieving instant fame as self-made ghost hunters.
Like House, the shock stabs aren’t prolific, but they do pay off, even though it’s fairly clear what’s coming down the pike. An example of classic teasing / cheating has Claire setting her head down to sleep while Luke keeps mans the counter downstairs in case of a last-minute pop-in by a corporeal guest, or the ghostly dead bride Madeline (I Sell the Dead’s attractive Brenda Cooney, seriously uglified with a rotting maw). In the shock sequence, West has Claire facing the camera, and after she rolls back and forth and sits up and down, it’s obvious someone or something will suddenly pop into an empty corner of the frame, sending her screaming down to the lobby.
There’s also the simple use of audio stabs, of which the most potent is a single discordant piano key that blasts at full volume into Claire’s headphones during her first attempt at sonically capturing Maedline’s movements.
Sound designer Graham Reznick also crafted a grinding / droning effect that symbolizes the various presences within the hotel, which sort of gives composer Jeff Grace to either leave a scene unscored, add slight material as a lead-in to a stab, or create contrast using more overtly thematic material, like quoting the main title’s fiddling jig performed by a Herrmannesque chamber orchestra.
None of these tricks take away from the actors’ performances. Paxton (a dead ringer for Reese Witherspoon) and Healy are perfectly paired to evoke working / teasing buddies, and Kelly McGillis is believable & sympathetic as a faded TV star who tries to help Claire using the skills of her new career: a New Agey medium.
The film’s slower first third not only establishes the character relationships, but like House, allows West and the audience to explore the innards of the hotel’s architecture, which becomes important when all hell breaks loose. During the pair’s final days as clerks, they’re responsible for two guests, one of whom insists on sleeping in a room on the third floor where each suite has been stripped-down of its furnishings, and all elements of human comfort.
West’s film is essentially his riff on an old ghost story tale, with the occasional nod towards Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining – if not in the use of roving camera movements that crawl up and down hallways and staircases, then the ornate chapter cards that introduce each story segment.
Innkeepers is not for the Saw crowd; it’s very much the measured thrillers West has been making since his debut, but he’s refined his style with a more respectable amount of plotting. There are a few big holes – why Claire doesn’t leave or call the police isn’t clarified; and Luke’s last-minute return to the hotel after an embarrassing admission before a decisive, panicked exit is tonally and plausibly absurd – but the mood is unrelenting once Madeline ‘makes contact’ with the pair.
Like House, Innkeepers works best in a big cinema with a broadly arranged sound system, and it’s probably West’s most dramatically satisfying work to date.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan
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