Thursday, October 2, 2014
It's the final weekend before Yankee Pedlar Inn closes for good, and there are only two employees on duty: Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy). Only two rooms are occupied, one by an angry woman and her young son and the other by former actress Leane Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), who's in town for a convention. Mainly to pass the time, Claire and Luke, amateur ghost hunters, explore the haunted history of the inn. Supposedly, back in the 1800s, a woman named Madeline O'Malley hung herself in the basement after her husband abandoned her on their honeymoon and whose body was supposedly hidden by the hotel's owners.
The Innkeepers is a ghost story in the tradition of The Shining, right down to being set at a hotel and having title cards introduce segments to announce when time has passed. It also shares a kinship with Robert Wise's The Haunting because for much of the running length we're not sure if we're witnessing genuine paranormal activity or if it's all in the characters' heads. Instead of a phantasmagoria of special effects and poltergeists bombarding the screen, the film only shows little things: a door closing on its own volition, the sound of a piano playing off in the distance, is that a shadow at the end of the hall. The strength of The Innkeepers is we can't be sure for a long while.
Like in The House of the Devil, West doesn't rush the horror elements; his pacing is more deliberate. In fact, The Innkeepers, except for a few horrific moments and the final act where Claire and Luke head down into the basement to find the ghost of Madeline O'Malley, feels more like a quirky look at a pair of aimless young adults who just happen to work in a haunted hotel. Claire is a recent college dropout while Luke is a slacker (note his response to the woman requesting clean towels. His eyes never leave his computer screen.). Both are a bit directionless in life, and whatever their plans are after the hotel closes is never revealed.
When the West turns the screws, it is creepy. When Claire and Luke go down into the basement (after Claire was told by Leane not to), they sit in a dark room and attempt to contact the spirit, and the scene is mostly played in closeups, cutting back and forth between their faces, the dark, dank space of the basement behind them. When Claire tells Luke that Madeline is standing right behind him, you're ready to do what he does: freak out.
The Innkeepers is about as effective as The House of the Devil. It might not be as taut of a thriller, and the appearance of a weird old man who insists on renting a certain room in the hotel feels a bit out of place and raises some questions that are never answered, but when so many modern ghost stories quickly become dated because of an over reliance on special effects, I predict The Innkeepers is one spooky tale that will hold up for years to come.