Review of “The Innkeepers”

  Sara Paxton and Pat Healy (photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

As a horror fan, I have to admit that sometimes I don’t know what I want. There, I said it. Feels good to get that off my chest. Often, I hear myself saying that movies in the 1980s were fun, movies in the 1970s were intelligent, remakes are unbelievably annoying, and everything made from 2000-present is mediocre. Those are generalizations that I use to express frustration, but I am reasonable enough to know that when I say those things, I may be full-of-it. I do like some modern horror films and, realistically, there are good and bad films (also overrated films) in every decade, from independent and major studios. So, where does that leave me? What is it that I want in a horror film? Also, what is my point?

Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that the frustration I often feel, as a horror fan, stems from the fact that I am looking for something that is interesting or engaging. I am looking for something that is unique and that stirs some type of reaction within me. You could see how that makes it difficult to say exactly what I want in a horror film. In past decades, I could say that I liked a specific sub-genre of horror, such as slasher films. But these days, that no longer applies. It’s gotten to the point where I take every film on an individual basis. I may or may not like a film and I feel no obligation to any subgenre, studio, director, or “rave reviews” from other critics. My final statement on this matter is: I watch what I want and I like what I like. If it’s interesting, I will be happy. Now, on to the review.

I feel that I needed that explanation because Ti West’s “The Innkeepers” is a good example of what I want in horror. The film is a traditional haunting story that centers on a girl and guy who work at an old, Victorian type of inn. The two are also amateur paranormal investigators (with the video cameras, audio recorders, etc) and they are looking to get some footage before the inn closes for good, in the next few days. They decide to investigate a legend about a woman who mysteriously died at the inn, years ago. Along the way, they both have some strange experiences and it gets even stranger when a semi-retired actress, who is into spiritual healing, comes to stay the night. As the story unfolds, the three of them find out if the inn is really haunted or if it’s just collective paranoia.

When I said that “The Innkeepers” is a traditional haunting story, I meant that it is similar to a literary type of haunting story. Something in the vein of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Film-wise, I think it’s a throwback to the classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s. What this means is that most of the film is a build-up of suspense and most of the conflict and action takes place in the last 20-30 minutes. Some call it a “slow burn” type of film and Ti West is known for this style of filmmaking.

Before I go on, I do want to say that I am a fan of Ti West. I really liked “The House of the Devil”, “The Roost” has a certain charm to it, and I actually liked what he did with “Cabin Fever 2”. He always delivers a well-developed story, he crafts intelligent and fresh dialogue, he creates interesting non-stereotypical characters, and he seems to have some reverence/respect for the horror-works of the past.

But, the thing I enjoy most about West’s films is his realism. Not pessimism, realism. In a way I consider him to be the anti- John Hughes because his characters don’t have all of their dreams come true and don’t always win in the end. However, they do learn something about themselves and they develop as human beings. Don’t get me wrong, I love John Hughes but his films are fantasy depictions of human interaction – similar to what Frank Capra depicted in his films. Actually, there’s a funny scene in an episode of “Cheers” where the gang is watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Norm says something like, “trust me. when you’re in trouble with the bank people do not come running over with money”. Ti West is that realistic voice of Norm Peterson. West explores common human experiences of success and failure, in a very likeable way. Again, he is not dark and depressing, he is realistic.

That realism is present in “The Innkeepers”, but unfortunately, the film didn’t totally satisfy me. My problem with the film is that it took a little too long to “get going” and I started to lose interest. Overall, it was a well-crafted and intelligent film but it lacked the basic component of a horror film: horror. I don’t mean gore, blood, zombies, and masked killers. I mean the horrifying thing that should be the basis of a horror film. In this case, it was the ghost of the woman who died at the inn. “The Innkeepers” kept hinting at the ghost, had a great build-up up to it, and did have a couple of ghost scenes, but it wasn’t enough. Overall, I don’t think that the “payoff” was equivalent to the wait.

For that reason, the film was very frustrating. I was really looking forward to it and it was one of those films that I wanted to like more than I actually did. It just needed a little more – just a little more – ghost content and it would have been a fulfilling experience. It’s also frustrating because 85% of the film was outstanding. Here’s a rundown of the positives: all of the acting was excellent; the dialogue was superb because it was very realistic; the characters were incredibly well-developed, each had strengths and weaknesses, each was going through some sort of transition in their lives, and each went through a “changing” moment; the setting of the inn was perfect; the special effects and look of the ghost were exciting and unique; and lastly, the story was very strong and well thought-out. If just a little more heat was added to the slow-burn, the film would have been closer to 100% outstanding.

Despite my opinion, “The Innkeepers” is still a better film than the majority of current horror films. I just wanted more from it. However, it did give me most of what I am looking for in a horror film. West is one of my favorite modern horror filmmakers and it is possible that he may be the one who comes out with that genre-changing horror flick. As horror fans, we’re all chasing that dragon.

Review and Quick Byte by Peter Syslo

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