Ti West’s 1980s horror homage House of The Devil (2009) was a spectacular throw back to a time before horror descended into the murky waters of ‘gorno’. Ti West’s slow-burn film appeared from nowhere and was promptly watched by no one. HOTD placed an emphasis upon character development and plotting. Sure it had moments of violence, but most importantly West had crafted a protagonist that we actually cared about and, therefore, we were praying for her survival, instead of gleefully anticipating her gruesome demise, which seems to be the number one trend in contemporary horror films.
After West’s disappointing decision to direct Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (also in 2009), the director is back with another slow-burn horror, which again, is low on gore and high on character, but is West’s The Innkeepers any good or was HOTD just a fluke?
Fortunately, Ti West appears to be anything but a fluke and his direction in The Innkeepers is as if the noughties never happened. The scares only begin once we’re suitably invested in our two protagonists. These characters are Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) -although Claire is our ‘proper’ protagonist. This duo (who are far from dynamic), work at The Yankee Pedlar Inn, a hotel which is about to close its doors permanently.
The Yankee Pedlar Inn really exists and was built in 1891. Reportedly, several visitors have seen the ghost of Madeline O’Malley. The myth has it that Madeline was jilted at the altar and hung herself in one of the hotel’s rooms and now her ghost wanders the corridors looking for a new partner. In the film’s title sequence we see the hotel in still photos; from how it originally looked when it first opened right up to the present day. And testament to the Yankee Pedlar Inn’s current owners, they allowed West to shoot his entire film on location at their hotel, which certainly adds an extra air of eeriness to the proceedings.
Anyway, what with the hotel closing and the owner being away on holiday, our intrepid duo of minimum wage Ghostbusters, decide that now might be a good time to spot Madeline O’Malley. So, using some video and audio recording equipment, Claire and Luke begin their amateur paranormal investigation.
Prior to anything actually ‘happening’ we get to spend some time with Claire and Luke, who in all honesty don’t do a great deal of anything. And I was surprised by just how much the film’s first 40 minutes recalled the camaraderie that’s common place in a Kevin Smith film -think Randal and Dante from Clerks, but with ghouls (naturally).
Claire sums up their situation perfectly and it’s exemplar of the slacker mentality, when she explains to a guest that she’s simply, ‘between stuff’. These are college dropouts and like Randall and Dante, they’ll probably still be working here in their 30s… or will they?
And all of this is indicative to my thoughts on what makes a good horror film. By the time we get to the scares we’re heavily invested in our characters’ wellbeing -Claire in particular -so while we want to see the ghost of Madeline (as much as our duo does) we also don’t want Claire or Luke to be hurt, or even worse killed.
The film starts off with comedic turns, which includes Claire wandering the corridors while plinking piano music plays out, which recalled (for me at least), Ray’s library ghost hunt in The Ghostbusters. There’s also a cameo from Lena Dunham, writer and director of recent indie hit Tiny Furniture, and HBO TV series, GIRLS. But the film soon turns serious and when it does, it feels like a natural progression. This is no doubt helped by the films chapters; Chapter One: The Long Weekend, introduces us to the hotel and characters; Chapter Two: Madeline O’Malley, introduces us to the ghost; and Chapter Three: A Final Guest, is where things begin to get really creepy.
However, The Innkeepers isn’t without its problems, for example, there are probably one or two too many false scares in the film’s first hour, and the mother and child who are staying at the hotel, do not serve any real purpose considering the screen time they receive. The other guests fall into two categories; there’s Lee (played by Kelly McGillis), who is a medium and, therefore, plays ‘the expert’ and she’s there to share her knowledge with our intrepid duo, and then there’s the old man -who has scary-weirdo written all over.
So, Ti West has done it again. He’s delivered a proper horror film, with character and everything, when all his contemporaries -including the mighty Joss Whedon -are busy chopping people up in nasty ways, dispensing not just body parts, but also character and story. Dare I say it, but Mr West is carving himself a rather resplendent niche as a genre director. Despite my minor quibbles, if there’s a better horror film than this in 2012, I will be extremely surprised.