West has you strung from strings like a marionette as he sits above you pulling on them.
Ti West’s The Innkeepers is one hell of a slow burner. The film moves at a snail’s pace but is none-the-less fascinating at how it achieves a grand atmosphere. All the credit goes to West, a young director who is on a hot streak with this film and the one prior, The House of the Devil.
West (who is only 31 years old) knows horror inside out and more importantly, he loves the genre. For only having a few films under his belt, West shows a lot of talent. He knows how to manipulate the audience. I think manipulation can be bad in a lot of cases when it involves controlling the audience, but in the horror genre I think it’s absolutely fine.
Save for one scene I believe, the entirety of The Innkeepers takes place at the Yankee Pedlar Inn during its final days of being open. The boss is away on vacation and our two heroes are left to run the show. They are played by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy. For me Paxton is a dead ringer for actress Alexis Bleidel at times the resemblance is uncanny.
Paxton plays Claire and Healy plays Luke. Luke has been obsessed with old haunted hotels/inns, he even frequents a website about them. The two dedicate their final days at the hotel to finding any kind of evidence that ghosts populate their hotel. Luke’s obsession becomes Claire’s obsession. There seems to be an unfortunate irony about this when it’s all said and done.
The hotel has a few guests in its waning hours. A mother and her young son staying a few days after she got into a huge fight with her husband are two of them. Another guest is a former actress who is in town for a conference. She’s played by 80’s star Kelly McGillis. You remember her, she was in Witness with Harrison Ford and Top Gun with Tom Cruise. There is a bit more to her character that what is first let on. Finally an old man shows up. He demands a certain room. Even after Luke and Claire explain to him that the third floor is being worked on, he insists. They eventually oblige him and give his room.
I’m done describing the plot and its characters because there isn’t really much else to say. It’s a horror movie in an old hotel involving characters looking for ghosts. You can pretty much imagine what eventually ends up happening.
What I’d like to focus on is West’s control over this film. No one in American horror has the focus and restraint that West has. Instead of throwing scares at us left and right, West lets scenes build on one another. Power resonates more in later scenes because he allows his earlier scenes to just flow and grow organically.
Sure West will throw in a cheap scare here and there. But remember what I said about him manipulating the audience? By giving you a cheap scare, you’ll be expecting some here and there. You may or may not get one. West has you strung from strings like a marionette as he sits above you pulling on them.
West’s work behind the camera is so good you’d think he’d have been doing this for 20 years. His camera movements and angles are impeccable. There are a few moments in the film where he just lets the camera linger. Whether it is a long corridor or piano keys or a computer screen, the camera studies them quietly, suggesting certain monstrosities are sure to arrive. This all creates a sense of atmospheric dread.
The Innkeepers is that rare horror film (much like The House of the Devil was when it came out) that takes its time with its plot. It doesn’t rush anything. The story builds with meticulous power at a miraculously slow pace that builds to a melancholy ending.
If you find yourself looking for a movie to watch one night with some friends, seek The Innkeepers out. Close the curtains throw down the lights and turn up the volume. Just be sure to remind yourself that it’s only a movie.