In the vein of creepy haunted house movies or ghost stories told around a campfire, The Innkeepers is a haunting experience filmed in old-school style where things mysteriously go bump in the dark.
Written, directed, and edited by Ti West, and starring Sara Paxton (Shark Night 3D), Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) and Pat Healy, this film keeps you on the edge of your seat with tension that mounts and mounts.
The fate of The Pedlar’s Inn can be seen by the audience right away: a sign is taped to the door that says “Going out of Business”. It is the last weekend for the Inn, and after 100 years, it will be closing its doors. The owner is in Barbados hamming it up (we as the audience never see the absent owner) while the two employees Luke and Claire run the place.
I say “run” as if they are actually doing something besides sitting behind a desk or running to get coffee. Luke (Healy) spends his time working on his website - which deals with the haunting supposedly happening in the hotel. Claire (played by a wide-eyed and extremely good Paxton) is impulsive and cute with her pixie haircut.
Along with the two employees, the inn has two guests, a mother and a son, in the whole place. The third floor has been stripped and they are just renting rooms from the first and second. The inn gets another visitor when aging actress Leanne Reese-Jones (McGillis) arrives to stay while she is speaking at a near-by convention.
Most of the scenes take place late at night, when the two employees are taking shifts, not necessarily to watch the desk, but to use their ghost recorder and try to catch a sighting.
In the Inn’s lore, a lady about to be married died in one of the hotel’s rooms. To avoid the bad press, the owners took the body and left it in the basement for three days.
The story goes she haunts the hotel looking for her lover or perhaps to find a new one. Or so Claire discloses to the audiences as if it is a big secret or a campfire tale meant to scare children before they turn in for the night. The bride, or fiancé (we aren’t sure which) was named Madeline O’Malley (Brenda Cooney) and unfortunately her appearance might just be the cheesiest part of the film.
The movie builds and builds and the tension mounts until 40 minutes into it, the audience, with our brave heroine Claire, experiences the first encounter. The piano plays music by itself, and then as Claire approaches it, the music stops and two keys are pressed violently down. Something is about to go horribly wrong.
After the encounter, Claire discovers Ms. Reese-Jones is also a psychic (and a drunk with a taste for vodka) who is willing to help Claire make contact with the inn’s ghost – or should that be ghosts.
With the tension fully engulfing the audience thanks to a perfect blend of atmosphere, camera angles and mood music, the inn gets its most mysterious guest with the arrival of an elderly man (played by George Riddle) who looks like he just stepped out of your worst nightmare.
The mysterious man demands to be given a room on the third floor for sentimental reasons. Luke is adamantly against this, but Claire takes the man up there as she tries to be a good host. He shuts the door on her as she is offering the Inn’s services and he is almost forgotten in all that happens next.
The film’s third act lets the tension finally boil over, but it left me with lots of unanswered questions. After lots of spine tingling, the film’s plot leaves lots of loose threads for the audience to dwell on – which also helps keep the film haunting your mind if it gave you a fright while watching it.
Unfortunately, the ending (which doesn’t quite pay off for all the time spent building the tension); arrival of Madeline O’Malley (the visual aspects of her ghostly make-up job really doesn’t work and kills any chance of her appearance causing scares;) and unanswered questions (such as exactly how many ghost are haunting the hotel and why) can also ruin some aspects of the film.
Regardless of the some minor problems, The Innkeepers is probably one of the better “haunted house” films made in quite a while. Ti West has crafted a film that can truly leave the audience a little afraid, but the audience has to be willing to go along for the ride.
This isn’t a gory film with body parts flying all over the screen and it isn’t a CGI bloated haunting where the house seems to come alive (such as 1999’s The Haunting).
West brings his scares by asking the audience to watch the film in the dark with the sound cranked up. Most of the ghostly moments are auditory rather than visual, and I really enjoyed this aspect since it lets the audience’s mind run wild rather than having CGI spoon feed us our visuals.
With that said, West and company do provide a couple of truly creepy visuals thanks to the design and colors of the inn’s long hallways (which at times reminded me of 1980’s The Shining) and the creepy elderly gentleman who checks into the inn and demands his third floor room for special reasons. His appearance towards the end was scarier than Madeline O’Malley’s ghostly design and actually made me jump several times.
For any fan of haunting films or ghost stories, I highly recommend this movie. It is done in a classic style that serves the story. It moves slow and requires the audience to work a little to truly get the most out of its scares, but will keep you talking about it long after the end credits roll. There are some problems and unanswered questions, but they just left me hoping that West will re-open his inn for one more weekend visit.
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