The Innkeepers (2011)

The other day I mentioned to my closest friend that I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m still scared of them. She found the paradox untenable, causing her head to explode, but it’s simple, really. I’m fairly well convinced that if ghosts were out there and capable of interacting with the living, somebody somewhere would have figured out a way to prove it to the world. What form of proof could possibly be irrefutable, you ask? Maybe you demonstrate otherworldly contact in a room full of scientists and professional debunkers. Maybe you do it in front of the General Assembly at the U.N. in a 60-minute live TV special hosted by Penn and Teller. I obviously wouldn’t be the person to figure this out but somebody would because proving the existence of a conscious afterlife would make you the most famous person on the planet, at least until Lindsay Lohan speeds away from the scene of her next coke-fueled vehicular homicide. But so far no one has stepped up, so I assume it’s not a thing. HOWEVA, that rational belief has no bearing whatsoever on the abject terror I feel when I’m alone in a house at night and I hear an unexplained noise downstairs.

Yep, precisely what I’d do.

In horror movies people are generally scared of ghosts but never to an extreme enough degree. If on-screen characters behaved the way any real person would, all haunted house movies would grind to a stop in the first eleven seconds. The tiniest indisputable sign of ghostly activity would make most of us immediately flip on every light switch in the building and rush to find other people with whom to huddle. (FACT: ghosts are only scary when you’re alone.) A convicted murderer with eyeball tattoos and an AK-47 would piss himself if his flashlight went out just as a rocking chair starting moving on its own. But in the movies someone’s always eager to investigate the weird thumping sound coming from behind that rusty old door, which is fucking nonsense. As I’m writing this the wind is making the bedroom door creak slightly and it makes me jump every single time despite knowing exactly what’s causing it. Perhaps I am not the best point of comparison.

Free continental breakfast, if you survive the night.

The story: The Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing down for goodsies in a few days. We pick up on a Friday and learn that by Tuesday morning the quaint little hotel will have checked out its final guests. Sad because the place is totally charming and the rooms are really big and clean and I bet Priceline could get you a fucking sweet deal there.

Did you try control-alt-delete? Try control-alt-delete. Escape?

Claire and Luke are the last employees standing, charged with tending to the few remaining guests until the place closes its doors. To pass the time they spend their overnight shifts hunting for evidence of paranormal activity, the inn being supposedly haunted by the spirit of your basic jilted bride. It’s all fun and games until the creepy shit they’re looking for starts actually showing up.

Idiots! Why are you chasing ghosts when you should be in the back office smoking weed and making out like normal employees?

Biggest letdown: I really dug this movie so down a great distance I was not let. I’m a big Ti West fan because of The House of the Devil, which you may recall took home the top honors back in 2010, and because his name sounds like someone opened a second location of a hip Asian fusion restaurant. Innkeepers provides a lot of the same intimate spookiness as House of the Devil and even echoes that film’s beleaguered female lead. (Tormenting young women is always a hoot.) Also similar, unfortunately: both films could benefit from more moments of legitimate levity. This one goes out of its way to paint the situation and the leads in lighter shades at first, but it’s never laugh-out-loud funny and the sporadic physical gags fall pretty flat. Aw fuck, was that a pun?

Of course I’m funny. Do you not see my ridiculous receding fauxhawk and the way I am indicating with this piece of red rope licorice?

Why you should watch: West is pretty good at manipulating audience expectations. He knows a tight face shot with an empty room behind the actor usually precipitates something scary appearing in that space. But instead of giving it to us right away, he sets up a few such situations and holds the payoff back the first few times before finally delivering. Sounds like basic filmmaking but you’d be shocked how many genre directors (and editors) can’t hold their load. It happens to lots of guys.

The real purpose of haunted house movies is to make the viewer feel like a complete pussy.

I’m also recommending Sara Paxton, who plays Claire. The rest of the cast is just fine (including Kelly McGillis, though the sight of her all old and wrinkly never fails to disturb me) but Paxton really shines. Maybe it has something to do with West, who also brought out great stuff from Joceline Donahue, the relative unknown who headlined House of the Devil, but I’m inclined to credit Paxton herself. After all, it’s her awkward introversion and endearing, dewy-eyed credulity that make you not want to see her venture into the basement alone.

Seriously, Top Gun was forever ago. Let it go.

Memorable Moment: More props to West for keeping the entire first act interesting without showing us anything demonstrably supernatural at all. Thanks to that self-control (again, COMMON PROBLEM) the first time something undeniably spectral does happen, even though it’s relatively minor, the witness to the event reacts perfectly, flipping right the fuck out. That moment of true terror explains why the two bored staffers are able to tromp around in dark stairways by themselves for the first 30 minutes without fear. At first, it’s a game with no risk of success. That one moment turns everything around and invests the movie with a sense of genuine consequence.

Choice quote: “I don’t spend my time trying to figure out what women want, especially dead ones.”

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4 Responses to “The Innkeepers (2011)”

  1. […] The Innkeepers – Unemployment is the least of their problems. OBAMA. […]

  2. [ED. NOTE: This comment contains minor spoilers for The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil. Don’t read any further if you want to keep your first viewing of either totally pristine. If that doesn’t bother you and you’d enjoy reading a funny, insightful point I completely missed whilst I was busy fellating Ti West, proceed.] After watching this and House of the Devil, I now understand how to make a Ti West film! (1) Find a large, spooky house. (2) Hire no more than 7 actors (8 if you count Lena Dunham, which I don’t. (3) Spend exactly one hour watching the main female character walk around, explore, and do exactly nothing. (4) At the 45-minute mark, put one scary unexpected thing to let us know that something fucked up is going to happen. (5) Don’t forget to include a creepy old man who speaks slowly and distinctly. (6) 20 minutes before the end of the movie, let loose an avalanche of freaky scary shit. (7) Have it end precisely the way everyone thought it was going to (yes, they are actually Satanists; yes, the house is haunted). (8) Don’t forget to kill or maim your heroine please.

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