“You mustn‘t ever go down into the basement…”
The H-Bomb: It’s the final weekend before the Yankee Pedlar Inn, an old New England hotel, closes its doors for good, and the only two employees on staff are young cutie Claire (Sara Paxton), and Luke (Pat Healy), an aging slacker who is well past his prime. The third floor of the inn has already been closed down with the rooms stripped. The only guests at the hotel are a bitchy mother and her brat son, “Gozer and her demon seed,” Luke affectionately refers to them as, and an over-the-hill actress, Leanne Rease-Jones (played by an over-the-hill Kelly McGillis), who Claire is stuttering and star-struck over. There is also an elderly gentlemen (George Riddle), who checks in over the course of the weekend and insists on staying in the same third floor room where he spent his honeymoon, many, many moons ago.
Since the place is practically deserted, and Claire and Luke also happen to be amateur paranormal investigators, and this will be their last chance to do anything like this, they decide to break out their audio recorder to try and catch some kind of evidence of old Madeline O’Malley, a woman who hung herself on her wedding night, and who has supposedly haunted the place ever since.
Claire takes the recorder around to various spots in the creepy old hotel, but at first doesn’t catch much of anything (her “ghost hunting“ is more a way of fighting boredom than anything else). Then she both sees, and hears, something from the piano in the lobby that she finds rather disconcerting. During her freak out, she runs into Leanne, the over-the-hill actress, who confesses to Claire that she is no longer an actress, but is now a psychic attending a convention in the area.
Leanne brings Claire into her room, where they chug some vodka, and Leanne performs a reading for her. She apparently makes contact with some “spirit,” then turns very grim and warns Claire of a grave danger and that she must never go into the basement… which, naturally, means that Claire will eventually go down into the basement. Gradually, from here, shit gets freakier and freakier, as there is definitely something going on in this old hotel. Something that Claire, Luke, and Leanne are all going to have to deal with . . . and survive.
The Innkeepers, written and directed by Ti West, is something I haven’t seen since the first Paranormal Activity, and I don’t even remember the last time before that, a horror film that is actually fucking scary! I exaggerate not. Put this on in the middle of the night, when you’re all alone, then when it’s over, tell me it didn’t creep you the fuck out. It’s a very slow burn, but by the time it gets to its final fifteen-twenty minutes, the intensity has been jacked up to the max, and it just becomes shockingly effective. Hey, Platinum Dunes, the peddlers of shitty-ass slasher remakes that you are, this is how you make a fucking horror movie!
Now, I should calm myself for a moment to stress that much of the film, like West’s previous House of the Devil, is very slow. Very, very, very, very slow. He’s a product of 70′s and 80′s horror, and it shows here. It builds up the tension very gradually, often with not much happening other than the characters bullshitting with each other. But something weird happens here, with the many scenes of Claire and Luke just hanging around and talking, they actually develop as characters, and we grow to like them, so when the crazy shit is finally unleashed in the closing reels, we are invested in them and actually care what happens to them. That kind of thing doesn’t happen much anymore in horror flicks.
Paxton and Healy are simply fantastic as our two leads. They are both perfectly natural and believable. Paxton brings a cute, energetic, but down-to-earth vibe to Claire, which really endeared me to her, and Healy, who’s had small parts in films like Magnolia and Ghost World, plays Luke as a rather snarky asshole, but we still kind of, sort of like him, anyway. I especially enjoyed how he went from being a gung-ho ghost hunter to a total chicken shit towards the end. McGillis is also great as the actress/psychic Leanne, which has to be hands down her best role in . . . well . . . a really, really long time.
Now, I must reiterate, The Innkeepers moves at the pace of a three-legged turtle for much of its running (crawling) time. This, no doubt, will bring about many, many, many complaints of boredom from those viewers who have a more primate-like mentality, and who must have something happen every five to ten seconds, or their mushy little minds will start to wander. But fuck those people, as this movie clearly isn’t for them. Let me put it this way, if you saw House of the Devil, and were bored by that, or you saw Paranormal Activity, and were bored by that, then just skip The Innkeepers.
But for horror fans who are willing to sit down and let themselves be immersed in the characters and the story, then The Innkeepers will definitely be worth the effort. Even I found the build up a tad tedious at first, and there were some scenes, like a strange one set in a coffee shop, that I felt didn’t need to be there at all, but by the time the credits rolled, I didn’t care, because almost everything in this spook-fest worked for me. I even thought the scattered jump scares worked, and I usually find jump scares cheap and lame. I’ve seen the film twice now, and it worked even better for me the second time.
Bottom line, if you’re an unfortunate A.D.D. case, then just save yourself the ninety minutes of boredom and confusion that this movie will most likely cause you. But, if you’re able to enjoy a simply told, yet incredibly eerie ghost film, then The Innkeepers is definitely one creepy-ass flick you should check in to.