The Innkeepers is a supernatural slow-burner written, edited and directed by acclaimed genre throwback Ti West. His satanic slasher House of The Devil appeared on my best of 2010 (UK) list and he shows no sign of diluting the tension with his latest chilling morsel.
The action focuses on Claire and Luke, a pair of twentysomething slackers manning The Yankee Pedlar Inn during it’s closing weekend – a real 19th Century built Hotel situated in Western Connecticut. With just a handful of paying guests, a rudimentary audio recording device and a hankering to know just what the beef is with the spirit of one Madeline O’Malley, the film relies heavily on creating a thick atmosphere and a sense of foreboding.
The suspense builds beautifully and provides excellent payoff with boo scares that are truly daunting. There are long shots down even longer corridors that stay static for just enough time so you might start imagining ghoulish faces hidden within the once-regal wallpaper and ominous shadows being cast. A late guest checks into the hotel and insists on occupying a specific room on the closed third floor and it’s genuinely unsettling.
Perhaps the films greatest success is in evoking a real sense of sparky conversational chemistry between our wannabe Fred ‘n’ Daphne. This provides light, humourous relief amongst the palpable darkness of proceedings and gives the film a current and very distinct voice.
Sara Paxton, all elfin features and naiveté, is a charming and endearing female lead. It’s also wonderful to see Kelly McGillis continuing to choose sophisticated horror projects – see her turn in the ballsy post-apocalyptic Vamp feature Stake Land – and looking refreshingly human for a 54 year old female in the movie biz with closely cropped salt and pepper hair and the ability to register a wide variety of facial expressions (botox be damned.)
The Innkeepers is both an artistic success and stylistic triumph. A ‘pantomimical’ “it’s behind you” set against a dark, deserted basement might read like a cliche, but West pulls off such a scene with aplomb and makes it feel remarkably fresh again.