Ti West is riding a tidal wave of acclaim after his last movie, The House of the Devil, was released in 2009. A slow-burning horror movie set in the 70s that was shot in the style of that time; it was one of the best genre films of the year. The pressure’s on for West to deliver a worthy follow-up, and we made it to The Innkeepers’ UK premiere at FrightFest to check it out.
Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are the only two employees left at a hotel that’s going out of business. When they’re not moaning about the guests or their mundane lives, they hunt for proof that the stories about the hotel being haunted are true. One night, Claire hears something....
And that’s all you’re getting in terms of plot. The Innkeepers, like The House of the Devil before it, is better for not knowing too much about what’s about to happen. Also like its predecessor, it’s a film that moves at its own speed. Perhaps buoyed by his prior success with this technique, West has no qualms about letting his story unfold at a leisurely pace. This allows us to spend time with Claire and Luke, who are both likeable and funny while convincingly moody and aimless. More importantly, it keeps the tension rising as you keep guessing. West has a gift for long, quiet takes and finds the unbearable tension in things NOT happening. Whether it’s a static shot of an empty room, a long steadicam around a corner that infuriatingly stops behind Claire’s head and doesn’t let us see what she’s seeing, or a lingering look at an open door that goes down into a pitch-black cellar, you’re waiting for the inevitable moment when something will burst out and scare the crap out of you.
West is helped by the hotel itself. The film was shot in the hotel where the THOTD crew stayed during the shooting of that film, and its haunted history inspired West to make this movie. It’s certainly a great location, with modern furnishings over very old brickwork, corridors that go off at odd angles, a banquet room, and, of course, a massive basement with faulty electrics.
If THOTD’s pace put you off, there’s a slight chance you’ll like The Innkeepers better as there’s much more of a sense of humour here. Paxton (The Last House on the Left) and Healy’s (Snow Angels) back-and-forth bitching is very entertaining, and there’s solid support from Kelly McGillis in her second Larry Fessenden produced horror of the year after Stake Land. Much of the film rests on Paxton’s shoulders and she acquits herself very well, clearly enjoying her gawky, nervy, excitable character.
We’ve worked quite hard here to keep the story well-hidden. The big questions are “Is it scary?” and “Is it as good as The House of the Devil?” Well, yes, it’s definitely scary. In fact, bits are bloody terrifying. As to whether it matches The House of the Devil, well, it doesn’t quite reach that high benchmark. The biggest problem is our familiarity with West’s methods. As well as it works, we’d like to see a different narrative for his next film. There are some other minor complaints, mostly relating to a couple of niggling problems in the final third, but this is a highly entertaining old fashioned ghost story that tightens its grip as it goes. Keep your eyes open.
A worthy, if not equal, follow-up, The Innkeepers is a spooky, scary tale that builds slowly towards a frightening finish.