Oct 19, 2014

October 2014 Horror Movie a Day - Day 18: THE INNKEEPERS (2011)

The usual Warning: I try to not spoil the movie, and stop getting detailed when the plot reaches certain moments. However there is one mention which could be considered a spoiler so just an FYI.

In both The House of the Devil (2009 - which I watched and blogged about a couple of weeks ago) and The Innkeepers (2011), writer/director Ti West proves that a slow build-up is just as effective - if not more so if done properly - than an onslaught of scares and gore.

After viewing The House of the Devil I was excited for The Innkeepers and it did not disappoint. In fact I liked this film more which is saying a lot because I loved The House of the Devil.

The ghosts need to get closer to the mic.
Before I start in with the plot, I have to give West praise for his casting choices. In both Devil and this, the lead female protagonists are nothing short of amazing. In this case, she is Claire played by Sara Paxton. She is so likable and sympathetic that you are on her side the moment she first appears and opens her mouth. The same with The House of the Devil where the babysitter was set up so perfectly as a nice, squeaky-clean young woman that you didn't want her to die, but also rubbed your hands in sadistic glee knowing what she was about to endure. Also solid is the casting of their closest companions. In Devil it is Greta Gerwig which is a win for everyone, and in The Innkeepers it is Pat Healy as Luke who felt like a natural in this role and was a perfect sidekick to Paxton.

The ghost in room 256 needs more towels.
Paxton and Healy play employees at the Yankee Pedlar Inn (in reality, an actual Inn in Connecticut which was also the shooting location for this film). They are both paranormal enthusiasts and Healy is building a website featuring audio and video recordings of strange phenomena in the inn. There is a legend that in the 1800s one Madeline O'Malley, a bride, hung herself in the hotel when her husband abandoned her and the owners buried the body in the basement. Our protagonists are out to find proof that Madeline's spirit still roams the halls of the Yankee Pedlar. Paxton is also more curious as to why her spirit remains and is anxious to find answers. This is the last weekend the place is to remain open and with the owner away in the Barbados, Paxton and Healy are the only staff on hand for the final days. They take turns with their shifts, and decide to stay the weekend in one of the rooms instead of going home. While one sleeps, the other stays at the front desk and also goes about gathering the final recordings for the website.

Dude, even the stairs are scary.
The third floor has been shut down, and there are only a couple guests staying at the hotel - both on the second floor. The first is an annoying divorced woman (and her child) who takes out her miserable life problems on the staff. The other is an actress from a past, popular TV program played by Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Witness). Paxton is in awe of McGillis but is made to feel like dirt when McGillis points out the shortcomings in her life.

If one more person asks me about Tom Cruise or the 'Danger Zone' I'll scream!
The monotony of he their job starts to get to them. Left alone, Paxton goes about the recording the last few rooms calling out for Madeline to make her presence known. Paxton is very into this, and is taking it way more seriously that Healy. At first she finds nothing, but then hears the faint sounds of a piano playing in her headphones. Taking them off she hears nothing, but they are loud and clear through the recorder so she follows them into a room with a piano. There's nothing there, but suddenly two of the piano keys are struck and Paxton freaks out. Excited and terrified, she runs to Healy's room but he's more interested in sleeping than finding ghosts. McGillis appears and scolds her for making so much noise, but Paxton has had enough of being treated like dirt by her idol and stands her ground. McGillis summons her to her room, and reveals that she is no longer an actor, but is now a healer and a spiritualist. Using an amulet, she helps Paxton reach out to Madeline and is contacted by not one, but three spirits. They warn them not to go near the basement - but this of course means that eventually we know Paxton will do just that. [Possible SPOILER] Paxton shuts down the front desk and tries to sleep, but is visited by what appears to be the spirit of Madeline which freaks her out even more. Healy doesn't believe her of course, writing the experience off as just a bad dream.

I scared you right? Cool, now let's go wait for the Great Pumpkin.
In an angry fit, the divorcee leaves but is then replaced by an older gentleman who requests a room on the third floor. Even though the rooms have been stripped down, he doesn't care because he wants to spend the night in the room where he celebrated his honeymoon with his departed wife. There is something odd about the old man, but Paxton takes pity on him and sets him up in the room anyway.

Creepy, lurking old men are never a good sign.
It is the last night of the inn being open and Paxton and Healy spend their last shift together getting drunk. Healy mocks McGillis for her 'psychic abilities' as she returns to her room. Paxton, knowing this is their last chance to reach out to Madeline convinces him to go into the basement with her. He obliges reluctantly (the shot of his face when he agrees speaks volumes) and well...that's when things get really interesting for everyone involved. I need to stop with details right here, because what happens next is so effectively scary, you have to experience it first hand (also I don't want to ruin the movie).

Why does this woman keep dragging me to where all the ghosts are?
The Leonard Maltin Guide states that this picture may not be for everyone because of the slow build-up, and I can agree with that to an extent. I think there are definitely some moviegoers who want there to be constant scares. I didn't have that problem at all as this movie had me on edge. I think it's effective by not showing us anything for a while - with tiny hints of things to come - in that the longer nothing happened, the more unprepared I was for the moment when this picture would start unleashing the horrific goodness. It is a subtle tension that creeps over you slowly. There is one great moment where West locks the camera off for a particular shot for an uncomfortably long period - and just lets us sit there in silence. Again, the longer the shot went with nothing (and I mean nothing, no score either) the more freaked out I got because I started to fear the moment when the scare was going to be unleashed because I had no idea when or what was coming. It helped that the ghostly imagery in the film was already giving me chills - two figures in particular (which I won't get into any detail on) - and more action happens off screen than on which is extremely effective. This picture excels at getting its scares through flashes and close-ups and things appearing where they shouldn't

If I find a ghost in this hallway, I am totally saying 'He Slimed Me."
This hotel appears perfectly old and haunted, and the look of the production really adds to the spooky tone. I wouldn't want to work alone in there - ever! I also have to mention the score which was composed by Jeff Grace. It is extremely effective and so good that I have bumped it up on my 'must buy' for the collection list. West also knows when to pull back on the score, as I find there is nothing more unnerving than silence in a horror film, and it appears that he is on the same page.

I'm ok with ghosts being in here, as long as they clean up after themselves.
This is an exceptionally good picture, and it is now twice that Ti West has won me over (I'm ignoring his segment in V/H/S because I consider that a group effort). Stay tuned to this space for his film The Sacrament, which was just added to my Horror Movie a Day rotation.

Both The Inkeepers and The House of the Devil are currently streaming on Netflix.