Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Innkeepers

Grade: 77 (B+)

With The House of the Devil, Ti West made a name for himself as a modern horror director worth watching. West’s follow-up The Innkeepers (ignoring a direct-to-DVD Cabin Fever sequel that West has disowned), West further demonstrates his talent for slow-burning, atmospheric horror in the vein of classic masters like Roman Polanski or John Carpenter. The Innkeepers doesn’t quite pack the same punch as The House of the Devil, but it’s a more than worthy addition to West’s filmography, and a sign that we’ve got a real talent on our hands here.

Claire (Sara Paxton) is an asthmatic college dropout working at the Yankee Pedlar, a hotel about to close after one last weekend. Claire works with Luke (Pat Healy), who runs a website that documents paranormal activity in the hotel. Both are fascinated by the legend of Madeline O’Malley, who supposedly hung herself in the 1800s after being abandoned by her husband on her honeymoon. Claire and Luke deal with only a handful of guests, including an old man who insists on staying in the honeymoon suite, an irritable woman and her young son, and Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), a former actress now working as a medium. Claire and Luke notice more overtly strange occurrences in the hotel, and soon the amateur ghost-hunters get more than they bargained for.

Like The House of the Devil before it, The Innkeepers builds tension first by focusing on everyday behavior of its characters: boredom, time-killing, and especially a sense of twentysomething anxiety that Claire shares with Jocelin Donahue’s Samantha in the earlier film. Both films do an expert job of capturing what it feels like to be in a spooky place by yourself late at night: even if nothing much happens, it’s a creepy and often tense situation, and the fact that it might all be in your head doesn’t  do much to dissuade you of how serious it feels. West is particularly gifted in the use of sound: Claire skulks around the hotel wearing an EVP meter, and West uses that sense of isolation by headphones to slowly build onto the soundtrack until the slightest noise, even if it’s only slightly more amplified, gets the blood racing.

The Innkeepers owes a heavy debt to ghost films of the past, most notably The Haunting, Poltergeist, and The Shining. West is great at slow-burning tension and explosions after the fact, and The Innkeepers, like The House of the Devil, kept my stomach in knots throughout. But his films show an unfortunate thinness beyond their considerable strengths as genre exercises. College-age anxiety aside, The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil don’t seem to have much on their minds aside from being old-fashioned bump-in-the-night horror stories. West has it in him to make a real masterpiece one of these days, but until then his reverence for the genre and intelligence in filmmaking will have to make up for lack of depth. Still, it’s hard to complain West is working that voodoo that he does so well.

This film is available on Netflix Instant. 

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