A new Ti West movie is almost an event film for horror fans. He is that rare young genre director who receives adoration from both genre fans and the mainstream media. Last Friday, none other than The New York Times featured a story on West, focusing on his talent for slow-burn horror.
The praise is well-deserved. West is an enormously talented writer/director with a talent for crafting somewhat retro tales that build tension very deliberately and effectively (not counting Cabin Fever 2). If The Roost showed a lot of promise, The House of the Devil announced him as someone worth paying attention to.
Wests latest, The Innkeepers, ably showcases the filmmakers abilities. A potent ghost story packing genuine thrills and chills, it should satisfy fans of the director and possibly win him some new ones.
The Yankee Pedlar Inn is going out of business. The owner is on vacation in Barbados and wont return until the inn is closed for good. That leaves two employees with the task of overseeing operations over one last weekend.
Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are longtime employees. They are also burgeoning paranormal investigators. Luke is working on a website chronicling ghost stories, including an old one featuring a woman who allegedly killed herself at the inn after her fiancé left her at the altar. Fearing bad publicity, the owners hid her body in the basement. Now she allegedly haunts the hotel, looking for her fiancé.
With hardly any guests and lots of time to kill, Claire and Pat plan on working in shifts. While the other is sleeping, they will walk the hotel with fancy recording equipment and try to capture evidence of the womans presence.
West does an excellent job toying with the audience as he generates suspense. He drops little hints that suggest there could be a ghost present, and he keeps viewers guessing as to when he will explicitly reveal the truth. The first reveal is spectacular.
Helping West immensely are Paxton and Healy. Their relationship is completely believable. They seem like people who have worked together for a long time. They have a relaxed, easy rapport and the performances are quite good. She is a little goofy and insecure; he is a cynical wiseass. Their banter during the first half is surprisingly funny.
The scares in the second half are frequent. After the initial reveal things quiet down for a while, until Claire and Luke make the inevitable trip down to the basement. It does not go well.
Unfortunately, the second half also features a few glaring weaknesses. Playing a former famous actress, once Kelly McGilliss character reveals her current occupation, The Innkeepers comes perilously close to pure silliness. The character is only around as a plot convenience and is a distraction.
West also utilizes fake scares a little too much, though admittedly they do function to keep the audience off guard and on it toes. And a character does something so amazingly stupid and cliché late in the game, the audience was howling for all the wrong reasons.
Its also worth noting that when all is said and done, the movie feels like something West could pull off in a weekend. It is a pretty familiar ghost story. Heres hoping The Side Effects – his upcoming sci-fi thriller – is a little more challenging material.
Still, The Innkeepers works far more often than it doesnt, and its shortcomings dont prevent it from being a fun and frightening ghost story. Its definitely worth checking out.