Ti West’s career thus far has been quite the bumpy road. The House of the Devil is a terrific film (I know he did two other films before that), even if everyone agrees that the ending is rather lame. West has an eye for that retro-look and must have been saturated in that material ever since he was a small child; it is his territory and I don’t think anyone can touch him in that regard. After The House of the Devil came Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, which many felt to be lacking. The reason for Cabin Fever 2 not being as adequate as House of the Devil has to do with the studio taking that movie out of West’s hands. Even though he is labeled as the director, it was not under his command towards the end of production. Now we have The Innkeepers which is West’s latest attempt to make a neo-retro film surrounding a ghost story; it may not be perfect, but at least West is doing the right thing.
The Yankee Pedler Inn is closing for business and two employees are left to run it for its last weekend. Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) switch every twelve hours for their shifts, but are more concerned with another task they have created for themselves. Apparently the Inn is haunted by the ghost of a woman who killed herself many years ago, her body after being found, was thrown into the basement so that no one would spread ill word about the business. Claire and Luke, with the help of a psychic (Kelly McGillis), try to uncover the ghostly entity that they believe haunts the corridors.
The concept for the film is something that we are already familiar with; in fact, the trailer almost makes the film out to be a sibling of Insidious. As always, the trailer does little to favor the film or portray it for what it truly is. The Innkeepers follows a girl’s journey to find out who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Alright, I’m not selling you because that sounds trivial and lame but the film makes it seem less annoying than that. Claire, played by the adorable Sara Paxton, is at a quarter life crisis. She is losing her steady job and needs to find out what she her career to be. Luckily the ghost-hunting has taken her mind off that fact and has given her a purpose. Her co-worker Luke is a lazy and apathetic individual who spends his time writing up a website for the haunting in the Inn. The best part about this film is the relationship that these characters have, one that is not hindered by a romantic interest and is kept fun thanks to a snappy script. Watching them interact with one another is a pleasure and the moments of dialogue are interesting. Much like The House of the Devil, the best parts of the film happen when we shouldn’t be scared.
WHOA! So this film is not scary, you ask? Not at all, I am sorry to report that the hype surrounding this film may be a bit unwarranted. They really push those frightening images in the trailer and when the ghosts do appear, it is quite intense, but there are only a handful of scenes where that happens. At times there is some great suspense and atmosphere, but there is never any real payoff. The ending is typical West; he just did not know where to cut the string. Not only does the ending make hardly any sense, but the climatic buildup beforehand didn’t lead up to anything. The Innkeepers will not scare you in the least but there is still a lot here to love.
Other than the film not being scary, I have a few other criticisms. Namely, the film is divided into chapters, but they feel unnecessary. Usually when there are chapters in a film, it means that either the location is changing or the characters are changing, or SOMETHING is changing. In The Innkeepers, they are just separating some measure of time, but that could easily be done with a fade out. It feels more like a tacky and pretentious stylistic choice more than an essential narrative decision. There is also the nature of metaphysics in the film that rubbed me the wrong way. There is a notion that the script presents that everything happens for a reason. At first I thought the movie would later scoff at that idea, but instead, it never denounces it. It annoyed me in a personal way but I am sure this won’t bother most people.
The Innkeeper is worthy of a watch, even if it does not scare the pants off you. The snappy dialogue, lovable characters (namely Sara Paxton), and subtle humor are reasons enough to see this. West also brings that retro feel into the movie, making it seem like it’s a period piece. I thoroughly enjoyed The Innkeepers, even if I was a bit underwhelmed. I am looking forward to what he is going to do next and hope the best for him. Check it out; you will still have a fun time with this one.