Thursday, 5 January 2012

Review : The Innkeepers (2011)


Ti West


Ti West

During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees determined to reveal the hotel's haunted past begin to experience disturbing events as old guests check in for a stay. 

I had seriously high expectations going into Ti West's latest spook-show, and who could blame me? The last time this guy had full control of a production, he created one of the decades creepiest, most atmospheric movies, in HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. Its practically languid pace may not have appealed to every Horror fan, but for an old school guy like yours truly, it was just what the Mad Doctor ordered. West instantly became a Director who's work I had to see. I fell over myself to catch CABIN FEVER 2, and while I believe he disowned the film, (after much studio-fuckery), you can still feel his capable hands all over it. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and can only imagine what would or could have been, had the studio heads done the seemingly impossible (for some of them), and allowed an artist to create art.

Word had it that with THE INNKEEPERS, West was once again in full control of his raising his baby. And given that the plot involves a couple of would-be paranormal investigators spending a few nights in a haunted hotel. I was all over this thing. The one-sheet, as you can see above, was also a factor in my months long salivation problem. For my money, this was the must-see Horror of the year.

I was lucky enough to catch the film during a particularly violent storm. and as the wind howled outside and the lights faded, I prepared myself for what would surely be the years most eerie film. So, did it live up to the hype I'd created in my own mind?

Well, that's a hard question to answer, as it was far, far removed from what I expected, yet knocked me for six, in a whole different way...

As a straight-up Horror film, it didn't have quite the impact I expected. Yet as a suitably creepy, and deeply atmospheric work, it's just impeccable. Instead of following in the footsteps of the handheld horrors of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY or INSIDIOUS' non-stop scares, West has crafted an entirely original vision of the 'haunted house movie'. It has all the tropes we expect from the sub-genre, but it brings them to the audience in a very unique and stylised manner that is really quite charming.

In many ways, this is the CLERKS of Horror movies, following, as it does, a pair of down on their luck, slightly odd employees, who spend large amounts of time shooting the shit, and ragging on the hotels clientele. The film has a huge leaning towards humour, at least during its first half, as we get to know our likable, (and very relate-able) leads, but the comedy, thankfully, is not bold and/or farcical. Instead, the idiosyncrasies of the characters is the conduit from which the light humour flows. There are very few outright gags, if any, but theres a great deal of amusing moments as these two hapless ghost-busters slog through the long working hours in the near abandoned Inn. In short, spending time with these two is an absolute blast. They feel like the friends you never had, and its easy to fall in love with them, and become involved in their lives, and the subtleties of their relationship.

The Horror, much like HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, takes its time coming, but anyone who's used to West's calm, composed style of direction, will feel right at home. It never feels stretched and not one moment is wasted, be it conversations with guests or humorous, half arsed paranormal investigations. The films greatest strength is that in spending so much time with these guys, and by never leaving the one location (bar one fleeting scene), you quickly begin to feel like your in the Hotel with them. And for such a slow moving (for the most part) film, I found myself not wanting it to end. The Yankee Pedlar Inn, is a very cool place to spend a few nights in.

Thanks to Wests brilliant sense of space, we get a feel for the hotels many dark corridors, large lobbies, dining rooms and bedrooms. He handles his camera with fantastic ease, to the point that you'll be so engrossed in the events onscreen, that you may not realise just how expertly shot the whole thing is. The best comparison I can think of, in terms of camerawork, would be that of Kubrick, or early John Carpenter. Its really impressive stuff, memorable too, and when the Horror hits full speed, and things get dark, it only adds to the sense of dread.

I mentioned earlier that the films first half is more akin to a humorous character piece, but the second half brings the chills and thrills in great style. There are only a handful of truly scary moments, building up to the finale, yet they all hit their mark. West doesn't pile on the spooky imagery, and instead allows the audience to project their own fears into the pitch-dark cellars and empty hotel rooms. The second half of THE INNKEEPERS builds a genuinely chilling atmosphere of danger and apprehension, effectively pulling the rug from under the audience, after the seemingly lighthearted nature of the opening scenes. Slowly, queasily, you begin to fear that this may not be quite the happy-go-lucky 'Ealing-Style' spook film that it appeared to be. Ti West is a clever man. Without giving anything away, the finale brings terror in a big way, and it gets pretty damn unsettling. I would say that those with patience will be rewarded, but that would imply that your merely waiting for events to take place....not so. The whole film is a blast, from scene one to the thoughtful epilogue, (yes, theres an epilogue, not to mention chapters with their very own title cards, throughout).

The cast are all great, and with only six characters, (two of which have barely any dialogue), you really get a feel for who these people are. Kelly McGillis brings a believable intensity to her role as a washed out, once famous actress who's staying at the Inn for the weekend. George Riddle, (no relation to Tom), is strangely bone-chilling, as the elderly customer who is adamant about spending the night in one particular room, and the leads are both brilliant, bringing depth and warmth to the eccentric, quietly sad employees of The Yankee Pedlar Inn.

Sara Paxton is no stranger to Horror, having faced Krug in the remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, yet shes almost unrecognisable here. She plays 'Claire' as an easygoing, slightly ditsy, and very, very lovable loser-in-life. I think I may have fallen in love with her, during the three nights spent in that creepy hotel. Pat Healy, as her work colleague, Luke, and the guy who's enthusiasm for the paranormal leads her on her dark adventure, plays his role as a wisecracking, intelligent loner with just the right amount of pathos, and while Claire is arguably the films lead character, observant viewers will realise that the story Ti West is telling, is actually Luke's. His tentative attempts at expressing his feelings, and his reactions to Claire's behaviour are subtlety telling. The simple, warm relationship these two share, has hidden depth, and as I stated, they make for very fine room-mates.

THE INNKEEPERS is not what I expected, or what I hoped for, but that's okay. I was quickly able to slip into its vibe, and by the time the weekend spent there was over, I found myself in love with the place, the people, the story and the film. Had I seen this sooner, it would have made the 'best-of' list with ease. Its a stylish, enjoyable and hugely atmospheric ghost story with great characters and writing, brilliant direction, some serious scares and a whole cellar-full of charm.

I've no doubt that some will find Ti's latest to be a disappointment. It lacks the white-knuckle pacing of so many modern Horror movies, and has almost no gore/violence whatsoever. Those of you who enjoy a refreshingly old school haunted house story, however, will find much to enjoy. I can see this film taking its place on my 'comfort-list' of movies I watch repeatedly, year after year. I came to The Pedlar Inn expecting one thing, was given another, and fell deeply in love. I'll be visiting the labyrinthine hallways and stairwells of this place, often. Spend a few nights with THE INNKEEPERS, and you may not wanna check out. In fact, you may not have a choice.....

10 Disgruntled Ghost-hunters out of 10

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