Just when you thought that Ti West may just have done all that could be done with “slow-burn” horror film-making in 2009′s The House Of The Devil, he decides to come back with yet another delicate, yet distinctly different, creep-fest in the form of The Innkeepers.
However, where House Of The Devil was a dark, brooding affair, The Innkeepers is a lighter, more airy experience, which succeeds in building tension while also working in an odd, sweet and at times, humorous, friendship story involving the film’s two protagonists, Claire and Luke.
The Innkeepers is the story of the last days of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, as it prepares to close its doors for the final time. Claire and Luke, the last remaining employees, continue to go about their business, tending to the needs of the last few (and at times difficult) guests and passing the time investigating the hotel’s dark past and its alleged paranormal phenomena.
West deftly guides us along on this journey, handling this ghost story with a gentle touch, never giving the audience too much. Of course, as is his way, West only begins to put his foot on the gas in the final third, accelerating the horror as things at the Pedlar get progressively weirder.
The cast are excellent. Sara Paxton (Last House On The Left 2009) is wonderfully goofy as Claire, yet at the same time, utterly charming. Pat Healy is equally impressive as dry-humoured, amateur ghost-sleuth, Luke. The relationship between Claire and Luke is absolutely believeable, and their interactions together, form the basis for the majority of the laughs.
Also, Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Stake Land) crops up as gruff former TV star Leanne Rease-Jones, a hotel guest who attempts to guide Claire as the phenomena in the Pedlar intensifies.
As with West’s other works, The Innkeepers is still very much a nostalgic movie experience which has been compared to both Polanski’s Repulsion and Kubrick’s The Shining, comparisons not without their merit, though both very dark films. For my money, I think the playful core at the heart of The Innkeepers, is much more akin to early 80′s “child friendly” horror films.
Visually, The Innkeepers is a cracker with low, crawling cameras and long, meandering shots serving to crank up the tension and that tension is everywhere.
We all know that Ti West can do tension in his sleep and it’s as evident here as it has ever been. As the “investigation” into the “death” of Madeline O’Malley at the hotel continues, the scares start to flow. Mild, misdirectional scares at first, leading out to the more, “balls to the wall” horror of the third act and West savours the build-up to every single one.
Never rushing a single frame or adding a scare for the hell of it, West milks every set up for all it’s worth, a strategy that might put off those viewers keen to see a film with scares and shocks heaped upon terror and gore. The Innkeepers deliberately takes a while to get going and gore is relatively scarce, so if that it is what floats your boat, you may find yourself wanting. However, if you can look past that, at the film as a whole, it works as a very atmospheric and satisfying horror film.
So, can Ti West continue along this road? Can he continue to keep making these throwback films with the slow-build leading to the powerhouse finales? Who knows? More importantly, who cares?
As long as West keeps making horror films as creepy, fun and honest as The Innkeepers, he will be around for a long, long time.
The Innkeepers is released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK on June 25th via Metrodome.