Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Innkeepers

THE INNKEEPERS (Ti West, 2011)

The Yankee Pedlar Inn, first opened in 1891, prepares to shutter its doors for good after one final weekend of accommodating guests in THE INNKEEPERS.   For these last days Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), the two remaining employees, have moved in to keep each other company while working twelve-hour shifts at the front desk and hunting for ghosts rumored to walk the hotel’s halls.  With a mother and child and washed up actress Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) the only ones checked in, they have plenty of time to search for the supernatural.

Luke maintains a primitive website about The Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is purported to be one of the most haunted hotels in New England.  Its notorious reputation stems from a story long ago of Madeline O’Malley, a guest who hung herself after her fiancĂ© stood her up on her wedding day.  Wishing to avoid bad publicity, the owners hid her body in the wood cellar for three days.  The scandal eventually came to light, forcing the sale and long-term closure of the property and leading to talk of Madeline haunting the inn.

Although not up to the high standard of writer-director Ti West’s previous film THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS is another often chilling exercise in building mood and atmosphere.  In contrast to many of his contemporaries, West favors something that might be dubbed slow horror, which relies on spinning spooky tales and employing long takes and wide shots.  West isn’t concerned so much with what he shows to raise the tension but instead builds suggestibility.  The pleasure is found in the anticipation of something awful happening, not being jarred by specters popping out of unsuspected places.  Compared to films with more aggressive jolt delivery systems, West wrings greater suspense out of otherwise banal scenes of Claire inspecting a noise coming from the cellar and sitting in an empty room while listening over headphones to the shotgun microphone connected to a tape recorder. 
When THE INNKEEPERS does include jump moments, they’re usually played for laughs.  It is an uncommonly funny film within the framework of traditional horror, but it feels appropriate considering the lighthearted tone foregrounded in Claire and Luke’s complementary work relationship and easygoing friendship.  Paxton and Healy exhibit pleasing chemistry as their characters try to pass the uneventful hours on the job. While Claire is the one sensed to be in the most danger, Paxton turns in a delightful comedic performance rooted in her posture and overall comportment.  Her awkwardness witnessed in interactions with guests and hilariously dragging trash to the dumpster is what makes her so endearing and the most vulnerable to whatever malevolent forces may be present.

At the core of THE INNKEEPERS is the question of if it is preferable to be haunted by ghosts or the prospect of a dead end future.  Both fears are potentially magnified within one’s mind rather than being tangible threats and are likely to become overwhelming if fixated on.  The damage these worries cause are proportional to how suggestible one is to accepting them as fate.  It’s easy to be frightened of the invisible or interpret random events as menacing if uncertainty is automatically assigned negative attributes.  

Reflecting on the thematic thrust of THE INNKEEPERS helps to compensate for a generally lackluster ending that satisfies more as a metaphor than a conclusion to the story.  The apprehension that sends a surge of nervous energy through the lengthy build-up dissipates when an answer, no matter how terrible it might be, can’t meet expectations.  That minor disappointment aside, West again shows that he’s one of the more exciting filmmakers working in the genre.

Grade: B

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