31 Days of Horror: ‘The Innkeepers’ uses mood as a way of lulling the viewer into a false sense of security

The Innkeepers

Directed by Ti West

Written by Ti West

2011, USA

Great horror films are made with the understanding that our imaginations only need a gentle nudge to send us spirally down a rabbit hole of fear. Our minds can wander to some terrible places when left to their own devices. In the Innkeepers Ti West shows us an exaggerated manifestation of that fear.

Much like his previous film The House of The Devil, West uses mood as a way of lulling the viewer into a false sense of security. These are just two young people having a laugh, a goof on a legend, as they exchange verbal winks. That isn’t to say we aren’t reminded that we are watching a horror movie. West finds ways of building tension through unnerving encounters with guests and a foreboding jump scare.

The character of Claire, played by Sara Paxton, is the perfect victim of suggestion. She is naive and impressionable, but willful enough, not to question her surroundings, but to assuredly believe them. Every scare in the film swirls from her impressionable mind, and  grow from both direct and indirect ideas planted by the guests, and her coworker Luke, played by Pat Healy. The empty and cold hotel setting is the perfect incubator for Claire’s ideas. She wonders what dark things lurk in the vacant corners of the old building, and her curiosity leads her there.

The clever thing about this film is the way West blends the real with the imagined, to the point where we the viewer question where Claire’s ideas end, and where reality begins. It is the bump we hear in the night. Is it the house just settling, or is it something more? Regardless of whether or not we believe in ghosts, and ghouls and the like, every once in a while we encounter something we can’t quite explain. Does it necessarily mean that ghosts exist, certainly not, but nevertheless, it is beyond our understanding. For Claire, her experiences that go beyond her rational mind get her rolling down the hill like a snowball.

Claire represents all of us in a dark empty house, our minds left to wander, and wonder “what if.”

-James merolla

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