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After over one hundred years of service, The Yankee Pedlar Inn is shutting its doors for good. The last remaining employees are determined to uncover proof of what many believe to be one of New England’s most haunted hotels. As the Inn’s final days draw near, odd guests check in as the pair of minimum wage “ghost hunters” begin to experience strange and alarming events that may ultimately cause them to be mere footnotes in the hotel’s long unexplained history.
With 2009's House of the Devil, Ti West won over the hearts of genre fans the world over, mine included. Based on that film and that film alone, West instantly became a fan favorite filmmaker, one we all stood up, took notice of and started keeping an eye on. Shortly after the impressive 80's throwback that was House of the Devil came Cabin Fever 2, a sloppy almost cult classic that West helmed and then later disowned, on the grounds that studio recuts essentially took the film out of his hands and turned it into something he didn't approve of. Though I personally found the film to be a bit of a hot mess, most fans didn't look at it so kindly, but West was forgiven when they realized the film they saw wasn't really his. And that's about Ti West in a nutshell, excluding earlier works like The Roost & Triggerman, which I admittedly haven't seen. Actually I did watch The Roost when I was very drunk several years back, so drunk that I don't remember a single thing about it. I think I watched it because I thought it was about a giant killer rooster, which is totally the kinda thing I go for when I'm intoxicated. Anywho.
So ya, given how much I dug House of the Devil, I was instantly excited about The Innkeepers, as I will be by any film West comes out with in the future. Don't ask me why it took me several weeks after the On Demand release to finally check this one out, but alas, I have done just that and I'm here to share my thoughts. So let's get on with that.
Ti West has become known for being a bit of a master of the slow burn horror flick, rife with tension and atmosphere, and The Innkeepers, much like House of the Devil, is further confirmation that West knows what he's doing in those departments. The Innkeepers is another heavily atmospheric horror film with a long and slow buildup, but West offers up something a bit different this time around, which proves to be another one of his strengths as a burgeoning filmmaker; humor. Believe it or not, this little haunted house movie is a lot more funny that it is scary, and it's that humor that I was drawn to most about the movie at large.
What's most interesting about the movie is that rather than choose to deal with the subject matter in either A) a serious way or B) a whimsical way, West instead decides to have his cake and eat it too, as he crafts a haunted house horror movie that is simultaneously both serious and very much lighthearted, a sort of goofy horror-comedy that doesn't become the ghost infested fright flick it's billed as being until around the halfway mark. Even more interesting than that decision are the results, with my personal opinion being that the goofy first half far eclipses the generic haunted house horror movie it becomes later on. While many horror movies are quite dull until the horror elements actually begin to ramp up, I found exactly the opposite to be the case with The Innkeepers, a movie that I would've likely preferred had no ghosts or horror elements ever presented themselves. Go figure. Let me try and explain what I mean by that.
The beginning of the film introduces us to Claire and Luke, the two staff members who are tasked with looking after the soon to be closed Pedlar Inn over the course of a long weekend. The characters are incredibly well written and well acted by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, two loveable geeks that share a common goal of proving once and for all that the hotel they work in is in fact haunted by the ghost of Madeline O'Malley, a woman who allegedly killed herself there many years prior. The chemistry between Claire and Luke is where the majority of my enjoyment of the film came from, with their first half banter and hijinks making me absolutely fall in love with both them and the movie, almost immediately. They feel like real people with real pasts together, and you truly get the sense that they've spent many a similar day together prior to the time the cameras started rolling on this latest adventure of theirs. I was literally so into just watching those two characters go about their day that I completely 100% mean it when I say that I would've had no problem with the movie being a romantic dramedy about unrequited geek love set in a haunted hotel, not a serious scare in sight. A lot of reviews I've read have talked about how it took too long to get to the spooky stuff, but I'm personally thankful for the fact that West focused ample time on establishing those two characters and their dynamic, as that stuff is the standout best material in the film for me. Again, I'd almost have preferred to be a fly on the wall of one of their work days prior to them encountering any supernatural elements, just shooting the shit, drinking Schlitz and making fun of the guests. Is it just me?!
So what's wrong with the movie once the horror elements come into play? Honestly, nothing really, it's just not as entertaining or as enjoyable to watch as the stuff that comes before it. Call me crazy, but I found an extended scene of Sara Paxton's character trying to throw a heavy bag of garbage into a dumpster a heck of a lot more entertaining than I did any later scenes of her hunting ghosts or finally coming face to face with them. It all just kinda becomes too haunted house horror movie 101 for my liking, with the characters taking a backseat to the ghost story, their charms and witty dialogue largely done away with. Of course this is after all a horror movie so it may seem kinda silly for me to criticize it for eventually turning into, well, a horror movie, but I just found the early bits centered around Claire and Luke to be the best things the movie had going for it. Serious props to Paxton, who brings to the screen one of my favorite female characters in recent years, an awkward asthmatic dork who enjoys the finer things in life, like ghost hunting and good bread. Paxton charmed her way into my heart almost at first sight, and it's her strong performance that stands out most. In fact, it's her character that I love more so than even the movie as a whole.
Don't get me wrong, though I favored the first half over the second, The Innkeepers is all around a solid horror flick, one that I recommend you all check out. It's no House of the Devil and because of that comes off a bit disappointing in the long run, but it's got a lot of the same strengths and charms as that film, including a retro feel that's largely a result of it being set in an old school independently run hotel. Even though the characters have a laptop and there's a modern day Starbucks style coffee shop next to the hotel, it still impressively feels like a film from a past era. That said, it's also got many of the same weaknesses as West's previous film, particularly as it pertains to the conclusion of the story, or lack thereof.
The biggest (and in fact only) problem I had with House of the Devil was that after a long and slow burn buildup, the ending left a whole lot to be desired, so much so that it felt like a betrayal of all the tension and buildup that preceded it. The same goes for The Innkeepers, which similarly just kinda fizzles out at the end, never really bringing the story to any kind of satisfying conclusion. Ti West is kinda like the girl that gives you really great head and then finishes you off with her hand and it just seems like he really just doesn't know how to properly end a movie. The process of getting there seems to always be better than the actual destination itself, which is kind of a bummer, especially given the fact that he puts so much effort into getting us pumped up for a huge payoff, a payoff that never actually comes. Can you say blue balls?
All in all The Innkeepers is another win for Ti West and for the genre, not a perfect film but one of the better horror films of 2011 nonetheless, even if the horror elements were my least favorite part of said horror movie. West has proven that he can work within many different sub-genres of the genre and I'm quite excited to see what avenue he goes down next. I'd almost like to even see him do a straight up non-horror movie, which I think he could pull off really well. Either way, the thought of the movies he's gonna bring our way in the future excites me. Bring it on, Mr. West!