FANTASTIC FEST 2011
By Don Simpson | October 2, 2011
Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West
Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, George Riddle, Alison Bartlett, Lena Dunham, Jake Schlueter
The 19th century New England hotel, The Yankee Pedlar Inn, will be closing its doors for good in a couple of days. Two employees — Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) — remain, working in alternating 12-hour shifts and sleeping in the hotel.
There is an obvious shortage of hotel guests, so Claire and Luke keep themselves occupied by attempting to document the existence of ghosts via an EVP recorder. Claire becomes obsessed with attempting to make contact with one specific ghost, Madeline O’Malley; she gets some assistance from a famous actress-turned-psychic, Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), who recently checked into the hotel as a guest.
With The Innkeepers, writer-director Ti West plays with the traditional tropes and formulas of classic haunted house stories. For example, conventional wisdom dictates that ghosts prefer to frolic in darkness, but a majority of West’s narrative takes place during the daytime; even when nighttime arrives, there is nary a dark corner to be found inside the Pedlar. The bright lighting seems to provide a false sense of security for Claire as she fearlessly wanders around the desolate hallways armed only with the EVP recorder and her asthma inhaler.
When Claire does decide to wander into the darker areas of the hotel, she does so with a similar level of confidence. In some ways, Claire is the typical haunted house protagonist, always going toward danger rather than running away from it. This also reflects her immaturity, because ghost hunting seems to be a game for her. Even though she seems intent on wanting to believe in ghosts, maybe it is disbelief that promotes her tenacity. I like to think that it is Claire’s approach to ghost hunting that prompts Madeline to contact her, as if Madeline is irritated by Claire’s naïveté.
What makes The Innkeepers a truly unique horror film is West’s unwavering focus on developing strong characters who speak naturally. West also reveals an uncanny amount of patience and restraint in creating believable motivations for his protagonists. All the while, he masterfully plays with red herrings, incorporating various sub-plots and supporting characters that may or may not have any significance in the story.
There is also a notable lack of frightening elements to be found in The Innkeepers. Most of the tension is developed by Graham Reznick’s amazing sound design rather than visual shocks. The lack of horror will probably disappoint and/or annoy some audiences, but that is the risk in categorizing The Innkeepers as a horror film. I would be more inclined to say that The Innkeepers is a dramatic-yet-humorous exercise in character development that just so happens to be situated in one of New England’s “most haunted hotels.”
Also, be sure to check out Jessica Delfanti’s review of The Innkeepers.