3 / 5 stars
Director Ti West follows his well-received The House of the Devil with another scary one, The Innkeepers. The purportedly haunted Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing down for good and two of its employees hope to document the ghostly activities before they lose the chance.
West’s emphasis of quiet suspense over scary visuals is at work here once again. The Innkeepers is not just about what West doesn’t show, but how he paces the entire film. He demands patience from his audience and it’s a pretty interesting experiment.
The film is broken up into odd little chapters designated by silent movie-type title cards and, seemingly, not at all by plot shifts or turning points. By the second or third chapter, viewers start to catch on that each section is meant to be enjoyed on its own, even if the only thing in the chapter is the film’s characters getting settled into their workday. West is clear: we are not rushing towards a climax.
Instead, every minutiae of the night is observed. We watch cute, pixieish inn employee, Claire (Sara Paxton), try to keep herself awake on the night shift. We laugh while she attempts to get a leaking trash bag into a dumpster. We follow her as she goes room to room, recording what may or may not be there, listening intently to silence, in stereo.
She spooks herself out constantly and us along with her. Truth is, most of us probably couldn’t walk around an empty hotel at night and not freak out a little.
And West’s goal is to take us through that experience in real time. Watching Claire, with a POV from behind her, walk slowly down the inn’s halls or stare down a dark basement for an inordinate amount of time (especially in the world of film) yields hand-wringing suspense. The visual scares, when they do come, aren’t nearly as interesting.
While some filmgoers may accept the slow pace and quirky story progression, they won’t stand for anything less than shocking after all that build-up. The ending, then, is a letdown: We have been trained as audiences to expect the big reveal, the twist or the monster, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. But the story here is as straightforward as they come.
West has made this point before — that simplicity can be a virtue. While this worked for The House of the Devil, it does not work as well here. Devil was also criticized by some for a disappointing ending (I disagree), but the rest of the stylized film made up for it. Here, we invest a little too much for so little payback.
It doesn’t help that some of the quirky characters take away as much as they add, including a creepy Kelly McGillis (who I’ve never known outside of air force jackets or Amish garb). And a classic moment of “why would she go in there?!” is a huge betrayal from a film that, up until that point, was retraining us in patience.
There are many things to enjoy about The Innkeepers, but perhaps the best thing going for it is that the Yankee Pedlar Inn is a real place. The cast and crew of The House of the Devil stayed there during filming and Ti West was inspired to return there and shoot this story. You can get a room for as little as $79 a night. Here’s an idea: Watch the film then go ahead and walk around there in the middle of the night. See how you like it.
The Innkeepers is plenty cute and an intriguing experiment but, sadly, an ending of such poor quality fails to drive home any artistic point.