The Innkeepers (2011)
“Come stay at the Yankee Pedlar … For a night you WILL NEVER FORGET”
Director: Ti West
Cast: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis
Synopsis: During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees determined to reveal the hotel’s haunted past begin to experience disturbing events as old guests check in for a stay.
As its title might suggest, Ti West’s The Innkeepers is an old-fashioned ghost story that is heavy on characterisation and atmosphere and light on visceral horror, which means it’s unlikely to appeal to fans of Saw and Hostel and the like. It might also account for the film’s failure at the box office despite generally favourable reviews. The ‘action’ takes place at the actual Yankee Pedlar Inn in which the film was shot for an estimated $750,000, which is chicken feed by modern day standards. Despite this, The Innkeepers failed to turn a profit which is something of a shame because it’s not half bad.
Sara Paxton and Pat Healy play a pair of hotel clerks at a quaintly old-fashioned hotel which is operating for its last weekend before closing down. They’re a likeable enough pair, although both lack direction or drive. Claire (Paxton) sort of knows that she is capable of better, while Luke (Healy) shows no ambition outside of maintaining a website about the reported haunting of the Yankee Pedlar — although even that’s a bit of a chore for him. But the supposed ghost of a woman who committed suicide in her wedding dress in one of the rooms after being jilted at the altar, and whose body was then hidden in the basement for a few days, provides an unlikely source of shared interest. It’s pretty clear that Luke has something of a crush on Claire, but she’s too preoccupied with the pointlessness of her life to notice, and probably wouldn’t be too thrilled about it if she did: Pat’s a slacker geek whose internet search history is peppered with porn sites.
For the first hour or so you’d barely know that you were watching a horror movie. West, who also scripted, concentrates on allowing us to get to know and like the two central characters as they engage in a largely banal series of conversations and interact with the few guests staying in the hotel. These include a mother (Alison Bartlett) and her young son (Jake Ryan) seeking refuge from her negligent husband, an old man (George Riddle) who insists on staying in a particular room on one of the floors that has already been closed, and Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), a former TV star who claims to have contact with the spirit world.
Very slowly, West allows the more ghostly aspects of the story to infiltrate the more down to earth strands, although there’s never any real sense of foreboding until the last half-hour or so. The problems of working with a tiny budget are evident in the way that we see relatively little of the ghost, even when she is hovering behind the petrified Luke, but in a way that works to the film’s strength in exploiting the power of suggestion. Regardless of the modern-day setting there’s an undeniably Victorian feel to the story and the manner in which the plot unfolds, and the script makes fairly hefty demands on the talents of Paxton and Healy, both of whom prove up to the task. Paxton in particular displays the touching vulnerability of a girl who is unaware of her own attractiveness which is vital in order for the story to achieve the requisite tension to be considered a success.