THE INNKEEPERS has a grim-looking poster that made me think it was going to be similar to director/writer/editor Ti West’s HOUSE OF THE DEVIL in tone. HotD is an effective horror original that manages to feel like an early John Carpenter horror movie without copying Carpenter’s style. West pushed tedium to the breaking point with HotD’s slow pace that built identification with the character. Instead of a scare every twenty minutes, the movie is packed with red herrings that finally pay off in a slam-bang finale in the tradition of seventies grim horror flicks like BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN.
THE INKEEPERS reminded me of a Spielberg-Zemekis sort of eighties family ghost story, something the whole family could watch, a story of young people we like, and not REALLY scary, except for the climax. That’s what makes this unique, but contributes to its biggest problem: Except for the climactic scene, it’s not scary.
Here, we have two employees of a hotel that’s closing its doors, several residents, and a ghost the employees are trying to record. The employees talk a lot, but we don’t learn much about them except that he’s annoying and she should be someplace better than this. The movie spends forty minutes showing Sara Paxton’s Claire and Pat Healy’s Luke sleeping, hearing noises, dealing with residents Kelly McGillis and Annoying Mom and Kid, and puttering around.
Around the forty-minute mark, Claire hears some noises. Later, she has a nightmare with a jump-scare. An old guy comes to stay for a night, and he might as well be wearing a noose, his goal is so telegraphed.
Will Claire find evidence of the ghost in the hotel before the place shuts for good?
I admire the investment in the characters, especially Claire and McGillis, who plays a former actress who’s now into faith healing and crystals. I liked spending time with them and was caught up in the idea of finding the ghost.
I just wish our main character was as interested. The movie pushes her cuteness too hard. Paxton and the score by Jeff Grace add unexpected lightness to what the poster and DVD case claim is some terrifying horror epic.
THE INNKEEPERS is like a ghost story written by Larry McMurtry, filmed by John Hughes. It does what most mainstream horror flicks never do, which is invest in characterization. The thing so many movie makers don’t get is that holding off on the jump scares increases connection to the characters, so you don’t need as many BOO! moments.
Having said that, THE INNKEEPERS fails as a horror movie because, other than during the climax, it isn’t scary. There are too many red herring jump-scares. If these were genuine encounters with the ghost, the movie would be impressively creepy. Instead, we grow weary of the jumps. When will movie makers have the balls to just be scary and not write their scripts with one eye on the jaded audience that’s never going to come to see a low-key movie like this, anyway? Ghost stories that try to be classy look back toward THE HAUNTING and THE INNOCENTS, both of which show little (or nothing) but are effective because they take the idea of ghosts seriously. THE INKEEPERS spends so much time on the characters that it doesn’t leave room for a few good scares like a mainsteam ghost story like THE CONJURING. Why not? It’s almost like West just wants to see how far he can push the viewer’s patience. This is counter-productive, since it made me conscious of what wasn’t in the movie, which took away from my enjoyment of the good stuff that was there.
THE INNKEEPERS reminded me of Stewart O’Nan’s novel LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER, about the closing down of a Red Lobster restaurant. Shutting down the hotel is a given, but little advantage is taken of the conditions, no exploration of the emptied-out parts of the place (why such a big deal about putting the old guy on the third floor, when what happened would have not been changed by him being on the other floor?).
The strange thing is that for all the time spent on the characters we don’t really know much about them. The ending is very effective, but I wish they could have pulled off the ending images described in the commentary, showing the ghost who now resides in the place. I’m still not sure why the ghost that was there acted as it did.
A good try, a good climax. Could’ve been great.