“Why do you always seem so surprised that I talk to the guests?”
It’s rare to see an asthmatic this side of The Goonies, but something about a young, petite blonde puffing her inhaler in a horror flick reliant on making her scared enough to gulp air adds a little flavor. Fearless in her desire to have physical contact with the ghost of Madeline O’Malley, Claire’s courage is hard to maintain when an encounter becomes a possibility. The ailment is therefore writer/director Ti West‘s way to make his disenfranchised lead more vulnerable than the temperamental ‘cool’ kid she’s introduced as. Sure her interest in the paranormal is geeky chic, but the attitude Sara Paxton instills through Claire makes the character more than simply a loner on the fringes. Possessing a large chip on her shoulder, I won’t lie about smiling each time fright made her lose her cool to become engulfed by the Yankee Pedlar Inn’s age-old mystery.
One half of the duo standing in for one meaning of the title, The Innkeepers, she’s been tasked with Luke (Pat Healy) to bunk for the weekend and work during the hotel’s final days. Drenched in the blood of a jilted bride who committed suicide a century earlier before being hidden in the basement to avoid scandal, the history of hauntings is perfect fodder for budding ghost hunters like the two stationed at the front desk. But whereas Luke tells of coming face-to-face with Madeline despite not having his trusty recording device at the time, Claire has yet to experience such an event. And while we can tell he has a thing for his coworker, their mutual enjoyment of watching creaky doors close by themselves makes an almost 72-hour work schedule a bit more fun than dying of boredom as only two paying guests came for the ride.
It’s a decent set-up in large part because we as viewers want to be scared. Why else would we be sitting down to watch such a film? However, while setting mood is a welcome step in progressing to an eventual end, false scares and monotonous clichés have the ability to make your wristwatch a character in as far as telling you how much more you must take before something good happens or you can go home. It doesn’t take long to understand the dynamic between Luke and Claire—he’s a bit older, she enjoys his eccentricities, and the two pretend they’re just friends—nor that something will happen to either debunk or prove the stories true. But how often will a chilling score’s crescendo build suspense when its peak notes hit with nothing more than the smiling face of a character playing a trick? If you wait too long you’ll lose your audience and admittedly I did check out.
Common tropes abound like a creepy old man with slow speech and dead eyes (George Riddle) to mock and dismiss as harmless, the looming stare out windows of a once famous actress (Kelly McGillis) causing you to wonder if there’s more to her tale, and the ominous warning about not going into the dark basement where the souls of the dead lay in wait. Ghost stories are fun when told to an impressionable little boy (Jake Ryan) to get back at his angry mother (Alison Bartlett) in the kind of passive aggressive way employees of the hospitality industry revel in, but for someone wanting to feel that uniquely tense sensation of not knowing, it only proves we already knew. By including the general archetypes, all surprise is gone. What’s left is the hope the film’s creep factor can satisfy enough to make us not care.
I’ll give West credit for the camerawork he utilizes to create a sense of claustrophobia as well as the art direction on Madeline’s (Brenda Cooney) ghost. He definitely has a handle on the aesthetic but I wonder if maybe his desire to prolong the fear through deflection hurts more than helps. The fact Paxton becomes ever more teenager-like annoying as time passes isn’t a plus and Healy’s humor can only do so much before the reality of their situation hits home. Maybe I’m simply not a good judge of the genre since I find myself bored more often than not at works with this atmosphere and mood—the suspense only becomes dead air to anticipate what happens next and therefore become immune to the execution of said thought.
Healy was interesting throughout performing with enough ambiguity to make you wonder if he’s involved and McGillis is perfect as the spiritual old woman dealing in crystals and powerful words. Between the two teetering on that line of unwitting victim or psychopath weaving a yarn to catch young Claire off guard, I did thankfully underestimate whether or not The Innkeepers was a true ghost story or a post modern flip into unexplainable events being shown as the work of the troubled minds of the unsuspected. Only Claire is a character definitely caught on the outside looking in, but while she excels at impertinence and abject horror, her normal everyday is lacking.
It’s not often I actually clamor for convenient pawns to be lost in the depths of a scary movie’s hell, but a little more action might have helped my enjoyment here. Seeing a series of not so narrow escapes starts to make me root for evil to finally slit throats and end the dragged out exposition padding a speedy final twenty minutes into a full length feature. But even the finale becomes one more status quo piece by retaining the immortal question, “Why are you going towards the creepy noise you seconds ago tried to run from?” I guess horror fans like these broken record attributes and truly love the quiet moments with telling orchestras giving away the punchline with their first note. I needed more.
 Sara Paxton in THE INNKEEPERS, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
 Pat Healy in THE INNKEEPERS, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
 Kelly McGillis in THE INNKEEPERS, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.