The Innkeepers: Film Review

Retro-feeling ghost story is long on build-up and sympathy for the service sector.

Director-screenwriter Ti West exhibits less stylistic fetishism with his latest film while remaining solidly outside of contemporary fashion, which results in a largely entertaining picture with too few scares to satisfy the multiplex crowd.

AUSTIN — Following his grindhouse-loving House of the Devil with a ghost film that could have been mainstream in the ‘80s, Ti West exhibits less stylistic fetishism with The Innkeepers while remaining solidly outside of contemporary fashions. The result is a largely entertaining picture with too few (and late-arriving) scares to satisfy the multiplex crowd, but one that will please many die-hard genre aficionados.

Shot in the Connecticut hotel where West's crew stayed during Devil's production, the film cares more about the chemistry between its two leads than the paranormal lore that fascinates them both. Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) take turns manning the front desk during the century-old hotel's closing weekend, tending to the two or three remaining guests while taking breaks to hold microphones in vacant rooms, hoping to record a ghost.

Given West's foreplay-heavy approach to horror, in which almost nothing really scary happens until the final act, viewers will appreciate the easy dynamic between two likable actors, and many will read the movie as more of a comedy than a fright flick. (At the premiere screening at SXSW, the crowd settled into this vibe so much that they kept laughing with apparent enjoyment, not mockery once the scares fired up.)

Paxton, as a skinny tomboy with more enthusiasm than savvy, plays well off weary, sarcastic Healy, whose Luke is supposedly more knowledgeable about the hotel's spooks (he maintains a web site that would have been cutting-edge in the mid-‘90s) but exhibits a suspicious lack of curiosity on this final weekend before closing. The two make boredom and graveyard-shift exhaustion reasonably fun to watch enough so that the screenplay's introduction of a once-famous TV actress (Kelly McGillis) as a guest comes across almost as a distraction.

When the basement finally needs investigating and the spirits get active, West keeps the thrills decidedly low-tech. Effects are so understated, and so sparsely used, that many moviegoers would feel they don't justify the build-up. Other horror fans will appreciate a movie that doesn't need to beat them over the heads or eviscerate everyone onscreen to earn a shriek or two.

Venue: South by Southwest Film Festival, Spotlight Premieres section (Dark Sky Films)
Production Company: Dark Sky Films
Cast: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Alison Bartlett, Jake Schlueter, Kelly McGillis, Lena Dunham, George Riddle
Director-screenwriter-editor: Ti West
Producers: Peter Phok, Larry Fessenden, Derek Curl
Executive producers: Malik B. Ali, Badie Ali, Hamza Ali, Greg Newman
Director of photography: Eliot Rockett
Production designer: Jade Healy
Music: Jeff Grace
Costume designer: Elisabeth Vastola
No rating, 101 minutes

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