MSN Movies Blog

Fantastic Fest Review: 'The Innkeepers'

Ti West's follow-up to 'The House of the Devil' is a similar slow burn with greater charms

By William Goss Oct 4, 2011 4:40PM
Rating: 4/5

It's the last weekend of business for Connecticut's Yankee Pedlar Inn, with slackers Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) manning the front counter once more. They're each crashing in one of the hotel's many empty rooms rather than commuting, a maneuver that adds a degree of convenience to their late-night, last-ditch efforts to make contact with the spirits rumored to be haunting the halls.

It comes as little surprise that these two will ultimately get what they wish for, and given the track record of writer/director/editor Ti West ("The House of the Devil," "Trigger Man") to date, it's little surprise that the supernatural shenanigans don't really ramp up until the final reel. But what is surprising and disarming about "The Innkeepers" is that the traditional slow-burn has been effectively replaced by a workplace comedy that's steeped in post-grad ennui and only occasionally punctuated by eerie occurrences.

"Imagine how she feels, trapped here forever," Claire ponders aloud when talking about the ghost of the late Madeline O'Malley. She could just as easily be discussing the single mother who counts among the Inn's very last guests, though, or the actress-turned-medium (Kelly McGillis) who just checked in, or even herself, hardly keeping a quarter-life crisis at bay while chatting back and forth with the perpetually sardonic Luke. What few times we leave the hotel, it's surrounded by a visible populace and yet these two essentially find themselves all alone, isolated with their routines on and off the clock.

It's no wonder that they go looking for proof of something, anything else in the hotel. West employs a combination of spectacularly immersive sound design by Graham Reznick and a Jeff Grace score heavy on violins and cellos, along with a minimal reliance on digital trickery, to pull off some classically creepy scenes as Claire explores the empty, creaky spaces of the Yankee Pedlar, often by her lonesome. As the encounters become more pronounced, the camera resorts to increasingly canted angles and the score grows spare, all the better with which to patiently escalate the tension.

No small credit is due to the performers, as Paxton's spunky curiosity plays nicely off Healy's cynical shell as they both pursue some semblance of purpose. Their reliably funny rapport is a smart way to earn our sympathies while the likelihood of danger quietly builds, and Claire's particular eagerness to document a shred of proof slyly counters an audience's tendency to automatically resent any character for eventually treading where they shouldn't.

As opposed to the outright retro facsimile of "House," "The Innkeepers" is a decidedly old-fashioned haunted-house movie that sidesteps boredom with banter, and perhaps the most refreshing thing about it is the implication that the only fate worse than death or life after it is not having a life in the first place.

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