NOTE: This is a review based on the Video On Demand release, which is how I watched it for $9.99. The film hits limited theaters on February 3, 2012.
While some praised writer/director Ti West’s The House of the Devil back in 2009, it left me frustrated as he mined standard horror film cliches under the guise of an ’80s horror throwback. Creepy characters at the center of the story and girls that went into rooms they shouldn’t were the order of the day and while The Innkeepers shows West is trying new things as a screenwriter and attempting to let the audience play along, he still runs into the same scenario where I was left wondering why characters were making the decisions they were and why other characters keep vital information to themselves. Essentially, it’s a bit lazy and amateur.
Like The House of the Devil, there isn’t any new ground broken in terms of the film’s conceit. The Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing its doors after many years of operation and two of its innkeepers — Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) — are sticking around until the final days and in the meantime exploring the ghostly legend of a woman who commit suicide at the inn years ago. She’s haunted the inn’s halls ever since.
Luke, an innocent, yet nerdy guy who probably goes home to his comic books and porn collection, claims to have seen the ghost and has been using the story to keep close to Claire. He’s set up a website and has EVP recording equipment which Claire has taken a particular interest in, though I never got the impression either of them actually wanted to see the ghost. In fact, they’re both a little too scared to serve as proper ghost hunters, which brings a level of unbelievability to most of the scenarios, especially when they decide to go searching in the basement.
Joining the story is one-time famed actress Leanne Rease-Jones (played by Kelly McGillis of all people) who is staying in one of the rooms as she now serves as some sort of medium between this world and the next and she has a speaking engagement in town. Big surprise, Leanne pretty much becomes the standard character with all the answers, but like all people “in the know,” her warnings are ignored, primarily because she doesn’t actually explain what she’s “seen”. Here in lies this film’s biggest issue.
The Innkeepers is really more of a ghost mystery than a suspenseful thriller. The ending is left seemingly open, more so because West does his best to make sure the clues are kept hidden. Instead of actually telling a story, West insists on cutting off conversations and only giving you clues, but I will save you the trouble and tell you now to pay attention to two separate statements from Leanne which will lead you to the truth of the finale. However, you’ll spend the rest of the time meeting characters that have little to nothing to do with the overall narrative.
These characters include a lady and her young son who are staying at the inn as a means of giving Claire and Luke something to do. A late arrival also lacks in imaginative storytelling since you know exactly why he’s there. You’d think that for a film that only has four supporting characters they could serve a little more purpose than just plot devices, cryptic psychics or random asides, but that’s pretty much what you get here.
Sara Paxton’s Claire is primarily the focal point of the story, playing Claire as something of a slightly more intelligent version of Anna Faris’s Scary Movie character, an irony that does not go unnoticed. West also decides it would be best if Claire had asthma as if that isn’t a character trait we haven’t seen in the movies before. I know he expected it to add a little wrinkle to the film’s ending, but when you get down to it, it just doesn’t matter one way or the other.
As for the others, Leanne has a drinking problem and Luke is just a lazy bum with a crush and none of this is explored to any satisfying degree. The characters aren’t likable or interesting enough to cause an audience to want to fill in the blanks where West’s screenplay was lacking.
The Innkeepers could have been a passable ghost story had less energy gone into the slight mystery at the end and more on telling a story. Then again, even the word “mystery” seems generous once all things are considered.
After seeing two films from West now, I can only surmise he is unable to break out of genre tropes and has very little that is actually “new” to bring to the table. If anything, The Innkeepers benefits from Paxton’s performance, such as a mildly entertaining trip to the trash, but it’s a scene that could have been in any movie and for that matter had no place in this one.
From the strange woman who seems to know more than she’s letting on to the girl that shouldn’t go in the room, but she’s going in anyway, The Innkeepers is just like The House of the Devil in that it lacks originality and on top of that isn’t all that interesting in the first place. It’s clear West has a love for the genre he’s chosen for his films, but it would be appreciated if he could come up with a few ideas of his own.