LAFF 2011 Review: THE INNKEEPERS

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
June 20th, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5

Writer: Ti West
Director: Ti West
Cast: Sara PaxtonPat HealyKelly McGillis

Whereas Ti West’s last big feature, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, worked through classic ‘80s horror film tropes (the college-aged babysitter in a creepy house, Satanism, all that jazz), the multi-hyphenate’s latest, THE INNKEEPERS, piles on its own set of horror film imagery and plot devices to a very different effect. Set in a vaguely creepy New England inn (and isn’t so much of old New England vaguely creepy?), THE INNKEEPERS follows two front desk clerks on the closing inn’s last weekend. While the setting is tricked out with plenty of opportunities for scares (creaky steps, mysteriously closing doors, chained up basements), West paces his film and his characters carefully – THE INNKEEPERS is as much a workplace comedy about Luke and Claire than it is a traditional horror flick.

Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are amateur ghost hunters, a pursuit that seems to have sprung primarily from their boredom at work and their belief that the Yankee Pedlar Inn must be haunted. Tasked with running the inn for one final weekend and keeping track of the slim number of guests still in residence, Claire and Luke pass the time with natural and engaging co-worker banter and using Luke’s rudimentary spirit-detecting equipment to get the bottom of a supposed decades old ghost story. For the first half of THE INNKEEPERS, this is all we get – and it’s a testament to the characters that West has written and that Paxton and Healy so effortlessly pull off that it’s more than engaging enough to keep us invested. But West also knows how to spread around the hints that all of this chatter may just be setting us up for some real horror.

West doesn’t skimp on cranking up the creepiness as THE INNKEEPERS winds on. The Yankee Pedlar is indeed a scary locale to be locked in, and the strange cast of characters that trickle in to join Claire and Luke only ratchet that up. There’s the angry woman and her son on the second floor, the former actress with some hidden talents (Kelly McGillis) who has just checked in, and an elderly gentleman that will very clearly not come to a good end up in the stripped-bare honeymoon suite. What’s clear is that West knows what makes a horror film and how to riff on that – THE INNKEEPERS has an old school feel, but the addition of Claire and Luke’s hobby tosses in a modern twist that works to further the story in a different, organic way.  

West's film places a premium on sound, and the film’s sound design (from West’s frequent collaborator Graham Reznick) and original music (from Jeff Grace, who also worked on THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) work in (excuse the pun) perfect harmony to create a horror film soundscape that is somehow both familiar and original. Grace uses the normal beats of a horror film score to enhance scenes for appropriate tension, while also misdirecting us on occasion. Reznick cleverly crafts a chilling bit of otherworldly aural background that becomes a calling card for those spirits possibly lurking about, and lurking with bad intentions.

What THE INNKEEPERS is most adept at, however, is recognizing and toying with the fine line between humor and fear. Modern horror films so often seek to terrify with a barrage of images and sounds that don’t really add up to much other than a brow-beaten and off-put audience. West knows the value of scaring his viewers and then rewarding them with a burst of tension-relieving humor. Using misdirection to get an audience to jump out of their seats is easy – it’s getting them to laugh about it that’s hard, that laughter soothes and lulls, but it also opens up viewers up to the next scare, falsely assured that they will be able to giggle about it afterwards. For awhile there, every scare of THE INNKEEPERS comes with a corresponding guffaw – and then they don’t, making that newly-deepened terror all the richer.

The film only crumbles when it comes to keeping up a consistent mythology. The Yankee Pedlar Inn is supposedly the home of just one ghost, a classic one borne from a jilted-woman-as-suicide-victim tale, and though we come to know the story of Madeline O’Malley throughout the film, other possible ghosts are hinted at without full introductions or explanations. The film doesn’t need to have a complicated backstory to keep it flowing, but certain last act ends are never tied up, and they stick out like a sore thumb when one considers how tightly constructed the rest of the film has been. THE INNKEEPERS is frequently tricky, but it’s never cheap, and though a sewn-up story may have been too easy, a clearer sense of what we’ve been dealing with could only have enhanced West’s wickedly fun film.

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  • http://cromeyellow.com cromeyellow.com

    Cool review, I pretty much felt the same way!

  • http://cromeyellow.com cromeyellow.com

    Cool review, I pretty much felt the same way!

  • http://cromeyellow.com cromeyellow.com

    Cool review, I pretty much felt the same way!

  • http://cromeyellow.com cromeyellow.com

    Cool review, I pretty much felt the same way!

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