SXSW 2011: ‘The Innkeepers’ – Ti West Delivers Again
Directed by Ti West
Written by Ti West
Ti West’s last film, the reproduction vintage horror flick The House of the Devil, signified his ascent from suspiciously young horror fanboy with a movie crew to clever and mature director/writer/editor. Those who love that film–like this reviewer–love that it is clearly a work of a skilled man with incredible respect for and love of the horror genre. And, despite dealing with quaint horror tropes and looking for all the world like it fell out of 1983, the film is nevertheless a unique, personal, and quite clever creation. Though lacking the overt nostalgic draw and insistent dread of Devil, The Innkeepers, which will see release this year, is just as accomplished and is funnier, quicker, and more accessible.
Set and shot like it was made in this decade but with a refined 70s strut, The Innkeepers is the story of two slacker co-workers dead-set on communicating with the paranormal entities in their Inn of employ. When the proprietor of the Yankee Pedlar Hotel leaves for holiday on the eve of the Inn’s closure, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are asked to spend the weekend working to keep an eye on the two remaining guests. And what begins as a quite funny slacker comedy slowly, methodically (as is West’s wont) goes all Shining as the two attempt to make contact with the Inn’s restless spirits.
The Innkeepers may not be The Shining, as West is not Kubrick, but there is nobody else working in horror right now that makes horror films this dignified and entertaining. Both Claire and Luke are exceptionally pleasant and relatable from their first frames, and their relationship is the picture of coworker solidarity and fondness. Healy plays the snarky, monotone cynic, but he pushes it past the worn Clerks archetype and embodies Luke with sadness and longing. Paxton is practically a cartoon with her wide-eyed innocence and exaggerated gestures, but she never comes across as grating or false and is hilarious to boot. The other players do well in their alternatively comedic and unsettling roles–with a very odd Kelly McGillis blurring that line–but it is Luke and Claire who are the heartbeat of the film.
Those who have been complaining since The Roost that West should just cut to the damn chase already may have to give up on that one; The Innkeepers is never in any kind of rush. But don’t stop reading yet, because here West proposes a more elegant solution: Why not enjoy the comedic stlyings and believable friendship of Healy and Paxton while you wait? For horror fans, Devil can be very funny because it is recognizable–that is, West is playing around with old horror tropes and he’s using them in a realistic context and exacting them on somebody with whom we can relate. In Innkeepers, West goes the extra mile and just has his characters say funny things.
The film is structured into four different chapters, not really for helpful story reasons but it may aide those who have come to dislike West’s pacing. As opposed to Devil, which (spoiler) spends much of its running time very slowly building tension until the last act explodes into a mad rush of insane 80s satanist horror, Innkeepers introduces the reality of paranormal activity very early, and has the characters engage with it for much of the film. That’s not to say it reaches Devil’s extreme heights earlier, in fact it never quite does, it’s just structured more fluidly.
West is not dealing in revolutionary ideas. The ghost in this movie was killed on honeymoon, stashed for days in the Inn’s basement and is compelled to haunt the site of her death for eternity. I think every town in America has that ghost. But what West excels in is smart, witty execution and a personal investment in the films he is making. His specialty is not in breaking new ground but in intimately exploring old concepts. The Yankee Pedlar and its two remaining employees are straight outta Ti West, and that’s why his films are so refreshing.