The Innkeepers (2011) -Ti West is back to the big screen as writer and director with his first feature since the well received "The House of the Devil (2009)". Like that film The Innkeepers is a bit of a slow burn that relies on the quiet lonely creepiness of being alone in a big empty buildings can cause. It is a good old fashioned ghost story that plays out on the last weekend that a hotel, The Yankee Pedlar Inn, is open for business, and involves the two ghost hunting employees who are manning the desk for the final days.
Maybe with a nod to "The Shining (1980)" the story is broken into chapters, Chapter One: The Long Weekend is the setup and the introductions of the characters. Chapter Two: Madeline O'Malley is the legend of the ghost, and the beginning of the creepiness that will culminate in Chapter 3: The Final Guest. It is a cautionary tale for ghost hunters everywhere to be careful what you hunt for, you might just find it.
Claire (Sarah Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are the ghost hunting desk clerks of the story. Luke is has been playing up the strange events he says he has experienced in the hotel and has a lot of equipment for recording events while they work. It is pretty clear early on that he has a thing for Claire that she is totally oblivious to. He seems to be more interested in her than ghost hunting but is doing the later as a way to get closer to the girl he likes. She is fluttering about into the ghost stories and really not noticing him as anything more than a partner in adventure. Always a sad thing when only one person is showing interest in the other but is too chickenshit to say anything. It is a tried and true story device too and here it is used very effectively to set up the characters.
So the plot, our non couple is working the desk on the final weekend of the hotel's operation. They have their recording gear and are hooping to get proof that the old place has ghost running about. The only guests are a woman (Alison Bartlett) and her young son (Jake Ryan). She has been fighting with her husband and is using the Inn as a way to get some space. The other guest is Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) a former actress turned psychic medium who is in town for a conference. This particular tie in is a bit cliche and wearisome in ghost movies even though I know what the purpose is. She does add some information to the story that leave you questioning at the end so not a wasted character. McGillis is a fine actress and plays the alcoholic medium with a keen eye not to be too new age-ish but also not too down and out desperate. After we have a solid idea of the players the film settles in to Claire who is taking the first shift at the front desk. She spends her time trying to record ghosts and the jump scares are reasonably effective. West pays attention not to give too much away too early so we have to wait until chapter two before getting the legend of the Inn.
Brenda Cooney) was stood up on her wedding day. The distraught woman retired to her room at the Yankee Pedlar and hung herself. Fearing bad press the then owners of the Inn hid the body in the cellar but were later discovered. The scandal that followed forced them to close the Inn for many years until it was sold and reopened. Now the legend goes the ghost of the bride in her wedding gown wanders the halls of the inn. After this story is reveal follow Claire out into the alley to the trash bin. A scary little scene we know is a false alarm follows. How do we know it is false. Because we just learned the story so the very next scare has to be a false alarm. That is how horror works. Still I made a note when she locked the outside bulkhead doors to keep the birds out that this action would play a part later on in the film and sure enough it did.
This may be a good spot to say that one of the problems with this film is it followed a tried and true formula that most horror fanatics have seen many times. Unfortunately it did not hide the formula well enough so a lot of horror fans will be really luke warm about this film. The acting was fine the setup commendable but the execution was too on the nose to the expected horror tropes. Ty West could have thrown some variation in to keep us off balance but he didn't and it really hurt the film. Sure the end was better than most with a nice twist and an unexpected outcome but the road to that point was all places we have been before. Very similar in structure to "The House of the Devil" but since I have seen that this one comes across as more of the same.
This is not to say that there are not some nice sequences in the film. There is a scene where Claire is in the banquet room listening on her microphone for sounds in the room. She slowly starts to hear static with something under it that become the sound of a woman crying, then the sound of a piano playing. What is great is the excellent silence when Claire takes off the headphones, and then hearing it again when she puts them back on. It really is the first time she is successful at ghost hunting and it leads very nicely into her first talk of the supernatural with Rease-Jones who explains "There is no real in this world Claire, there are just states of being." and leads into a seance scene where Rease-Jones says "They won't say who they are." Apparently there are several ghosts and they want to live as well as a warning not to go in the basement. It is a very effect way to set up the inevitable even if we have seen it a thousand times before.
The other thing that is so telegraphed is that Claire has an inhaler and needs it too. So it is a sure thing that her not having it will be a contributing factor in her storyline. I know it sounds like the script bad but it really isn't. West puts all the pieces together in the right order it is just that the writing lacks subtlety. At this point just before the final chapter we can see the conclusion coming and I am one viewer who was happy to continue on with the film. We still have all incomplete story arcs, from the ghost hunting, to the Luke Claire relationship to the creepy old man who arrives at the start of the chapter.
This is the chapter where the story really picks up, the old man (George Riddle), the final guest is really easy going even though the room he requests is stripped clean for the close down he is more than willing to take it as is. The actor plays the guy in a wonderfully creepy way and it is good at this point to add a bit more to think about since the paths of the characters are a bit transparent. They are destined to have a real ghost encounter, you know that and so do I. The reactions are great and it really sets up Claire for the final sequence. Now as usual I would not make the same error that she makes. When things get weird you have to shrug and say, this is a horror movie some things are just going to happen no matter how much they shouldn't.
In the epilogue of the film we learn that everything that was set up was paid off. It is a sad tale but one that I think is very much worth the watch. Not the greatest of ghost films it is instead a second solid entry by Ti West into the genre.
Rating (5.6) 5.0 and up are recommended some just more than others.