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Published: 2012-02-05 - 19:12:25
Movies : Reviews

The Innkeepers Review

By Lora Grady

The "Inn" Crowd

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Did you happen to see director Ti West's 2009 film, "House of the Devil"? If so, your enjoyment of Mr. West's latest offering, "The Innkeepers", will probably depend on whether you found HotD's conscientious pace and deliberate aesthetic intriguing or exasperating. Viewers who felt let down by the payoff of the former will probably have a similar experience with "The Innkeepers". But genre enthusiasts who are looking for a creepy, old-fashioned horror tale that doesn't rely on CGI sleight of hand should find much to appreciate here.

The story, which unfolds over the course of a weekend, concerns a couple of staff members at an aging hotel that is in the process of going out of business. Claire (Sara Paxton, "The Last House on the Left") and Luke (Pat Healy) have the easy camaraderie of long-time associates, and they share a unique hobby: ghost hunting. As the last two staff on site, they plan to use the closing weekend of the hotel as their final opportunity to investigate its haunted past and try to contact the ghost of the previous owner, who supposedly lingers there due to a romantic misfortune and a suicide.

Also on premises are a handful of final guests: a former actress-turned-medium (Kelly McGillis, of "Top Gun" fame, virtually unrecognizable with short grey hair), an uptight woman and her son, and an elderly man (George Riddle; a.k.a. The Onion News Network's Joad Cressbeckler) who has a history with the hotel. Claire and Luke work in shifts; he naps, she goes out for coffee, they respond to the needs of their remaining guests, and in between they putter around with EMF detectors and sound equipment, seeking evidence of a ghostly presence. There are eerie voices, phantom notes played on the lobby's piano, and the inevitable warning to avoid the basement. Alcohol is consumed, feelings are confessed, and something tragic and terrible takes place in an upstairs room.

But trying to follow the plot thread of "The Innkeepers" kind of misses the point; it's something of a shaggy dog story, after all. What's fun, interesting, and ultimately pretty entertaining about the film is the collection of small scares that seem like something but aren't, and how these false starts crescendo in the end into a genuinely frightening experience. It raises questions about perception and the mind's sneaky tendency to play tricks on itself... and whether those tricks can in fact prove deadly.

As with his earlier work, Mr. West's latest once again includes stylistic callbacks to earlier eras, revisiting the late 70s/early 80s oeuvre. There are particular references here to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining", in terms of setting, shot composition, mood, and atmosphere. We have the empty hotel populated by just a few characters, the tragic history of the site, and the older person as a guide to the spirit world. We're invited to ponder questions about emotional resonance, how stories end, and what it means for a place to be truly haunted.

In case we're still unclear about the connections, Mr. West also divides his work into chapters like the Kubrick classic, and he takes several opportunities to stage shots either peering down long corridors, or skimming along at floor level. For added fun there's even a long tracking shot showcasing one of the more mundane aspects of the hotel's behind-the-scenes functions. Part of the enjoyment of the experience of watching "The Innkeepers" is the leisurely pace at which it unfolds, the precision and balance of many of its shots, and the elegance of the editing. Again, this won't appeal to all viewers - but it's rewarding to see the art and skill that's applied to this quirky little ghost story, and it's worth watching a connoisseur of the genre, as Mr. West obviously is, at work.

What did you think?

Movie title The Innkeepers
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary While it won't appeal to all viewers, this old fashioned haunted house story can be rewarding for genre aficionados.
View all articles by Lora Grady
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