Cloudy with a chance of evil spirits
It's my favorite month of the year, October. The days are getting shorter, the weather is cooler, the leaves are changing, pumpkin pie is plentiful, and horror rules. It's the time of ghouls, monsters, and especially ghost stories. What is it about a ghost story that scares us so much? Is it a fear of the unknown? Perhaps a secret desire of an afterlife? A love of sheets with holes in them? Whatever the reason, ghost stories are as old as time, being passed down from generation to generation. There are countless ghost tours, haunted hayrides and other attractions for fans of horror and the paranormal. The United States has no shortage of haunted places, be it houses, cemeteries, or in the case of today's movie, a hotel.
The Innkeepers is a 2001 ghost-centric horror movie written and directed by Ti West (The House Of The Devil, V/H/S). The movie stars Sara Paxton (Shark Night, Superhero Movie) as Claire, an employee at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a formerly grand hotel that is now in its final week of operation. The only other employee is Luke (Pat Healy, Six Feet Under, Ghost World) who created a website about the supposed paranormal events that take place in the hotel. Both are amateur ghost hunters trying to find the spirit of Madeline O'Malley, a bride from the 1800's who hanged herself in the hotel after her husband left her on their honeymoon. It was also rumored that her body was hidden in the basement by the hotel owners at the time. The hotel receives a new guest, former actress Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis, Top Gun, Witness) who claims to be in town for an actor's convention. That night, Claire uses Luke's ghost-hunting equipment to record various strange sounds in the hotel. She picks up the sound of faint voices and music and even sees the piano playing by itself. She runs into Leanne and explains what she heard. Leanne reveals that she is actually a medium and is in town to meet with other psychics. She also warns Claire to stay away from the basement. The next morning, Claire awakens to see an apparition of Madeline O'Malley sitting in her bed. Later that day, a strange old man asks to check into a honeymoon suite on the third floor, even though it has already been stripped of furniture. Luke and Claire decide to investigate the basement where Madeline's body is supposedly buried, ignoring Leanne's warning. Luke freaks out and flees, leaving Claire alone in the hotel. Panicked, Claire wakes Leanne who goes down into the basement to contact the spirit. She tells Claire that she is in great danger and must leave the hotel now. How is the old man connected to the events in the hotel and will Claire survive?
Did you have that dream about being Reese Witherspoon again, honey?
Many people say that writer/director Ti West is the new master of the “slow burn” in horror. I think it's more accurate to say that Ti West is the mast of the 10 minute horror movie. Of course, that's a problem when the movie is over 100 minutes long. Much like his other movie “The House Of The Devil” the majority of The Innkeepers teases the horror out almost to the point where he risks the audience leaving before things happen. Besides the one scene where the ghost appears in Claire's bed, almost nothing of importance happens until the final twenty minutes. There are a few creepy scenes here and there when Claire is listening to the ghost-hunting machine, but it's not heavy-duty horror. It's like West enjoys forcing the audience to sit through most of his movies bored in hopes of getting a few big scares in at the end. Unfortunately, the scares at the end of The Innkeepers weren't particularly frightening. The final events in The House Of The Devil was far more unsettling than The Innkeepers. I actually had a countdown during this movie to whens something was going to happen. “There's an hour left, something better happen. There's 45 minutes left, something better happen. There's 30 minutes left, something better happen.” Forcing your audience to be bored for most of the movie just to have a “thrilling” ending is never a good idea. It makes the movie feel like a chore instead of a form of entertainment.
That being said, everything else in the movie is very good. The acting is solid with it's small, but competent cast. The conversations feel very fluid and natural, though they're not always pertinent to the story itself. It sometimes feels as if West is trying to channel his inner Quentin Tarantino, having his characters have full conversations and witty rapport rather than advancing the story. Most of the movie comes off almost as a comedy between Luke's dorkish slackerism and Claire's awkwardness and wacky Jim Carrey-style flailing. Sara Paxton does a fine job, thanks in part to her gigantic eyes conveying fear, and Pat Healy was a good foil for her. Ti West is unquestionably a good director as he has an eye for great shots, both close up and far away. There is good character development throughout, almost too much to be honest. There is an actual Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington, Connecticut and parts of the movie were shot there. I felt that that was a nice touch, going above and beyond what was needed to give the movie an authentic feel.
This movie is authentic, right down to the boredom we share with the characters
The Innkeepers is essentially two movies: The first is a cutesy and occasionally funny exploration into a few oddball characters. The second is an average ghost-tale with a few jumps and decent makeup. The main problem is that this “second” movie is about twenty minutes long and if you're going into this movie hoping for horror, you'll be sorely disappointed. The film moves at a snail's pace and will truly try the patience of people looking to be scared. It's not that the movie is bad, because it really isn't, it's just not what it promises to be. If you're thinking of seeing The Innkeepers, you should, because thanks to good acting and direction, the non-horror parts are well done. It's the story itself that is the true problem as nothing of particular interest occurs until the very end. If you're looking for scares, you can probably skip the first hour of the movie. That's never a good thing to say in a horror movie.