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The Innkeepers (2012)

June 13, 2012

9/10 Graveyard Shifts

So much for me getting a good night’s sleep.

Now, you’re not gonna believe it, but The Innkeepers is about two innkeepers working at an old hotel on the weekend before it’s set to be demolished. Now, there’s two things worth noting about this hotel: business is non-existent except for the three guests staying there, and word on the street is that it’s haunted. “Haunted by what?” you ask, as you cower under your afghan. Well by the ghost of Madeline O’Malley of course, the gal who hung herself on the third floor after her fiancee stood her up at the altar. And what do these painfully bored innkeepers do? Why, break out the ghost huntin’ gear, of course! So what starts out as two days of fun and games soon takes a turn for the terrifying as they start poking around and waking up restless spirits.

Talk about your all-time shitty weekends.

So the first and last movie I saw by writer/director Ti West was The House of the Devil. Much like The Innkeepers, that didn’t sound like much from the description either. Girl takes a babysitting gig at a creepy mansion, girl sticks around despite her better judgment, and before you know it, girl has to stop a Satanic cult from going all Rosemary’s Baby on her. It’s a been-there, done-that premise for anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the genre, and the same goes for small-time Ghostbusters getting curious in a haunted mansion. Usually one of the worst jump-off points for any horror movie, but nevertheless, it feels new.

The best thing about Ti West is that he knows what works for horror fans and he knows what most certainly doesn’t. The last thing we need is more cheap scares and loud noises, stupid characters deserve their stupid deaths, and, let’s not kid ourselves, torture porn is on the outs. What does work for horror fans is some cold, hard suspense and some characters who are at least smart enough so that we’re not screaming at them from the couch. As you might have already guessed, that’s what Ti West gives us, and he gives it to us in spades.

As for the scares, the Ti West breakdown is as such:

Step 1: Ever so gradually and ever so quietly build up to that moment where the audience knows something’s gonna happen. Step 2: Hold the shot on whatever it is that’s gonna scare the tar out of these poor souls. And, Step 3: Drag out the suspense by royally delaying the scare so that it feels like an effing eternity for anyone and everyone who’s watching. Then, when the audience is on the verge of breaking their jaws from clenching, release the scares to full effect.

As far as film making goes, this is a goddamn torture tactic. Remember in Elf when Buddy keeps winding the Jack-in-the-Boxes and keeps getting poop scared out of him every time one jumps out? Weird analogy, I know, but that’s exactly what this is like, only not so holly jolly. Although, like I said, the scares aren’t cheap. Each time it happens, there’s always this one little second before the alarms start going off and characters start soiling themselves. It’s that one little second that makes all the difference because it’s just enough time to truly take in how terrifying the thing you’re seeing actually is. It’s the same tactic they used in The Ring when they showed that chick in the closet for the first time, and holy hell, is it jaw-on-the-floor effective.

It’s also pretty light on the gore, but a little gore goes a long way. Write that one down, kids.

But the weird thing about it is that there’s very little plot here. Most of the story revolves around minor encounters with the beyond and a whole lot of dicking around between our leads at the front desk. Nothing of real otherworldly significance actually happens until the last 20 or 30 minutes, and the reason I didn’t care is because it was fun watching them dick around.

Now, these are characters that very well could have been caricatures, the kind of folk who don’t have the common sense to stay the eff out of a basement when a medium who just spoke to a dead chick tells you to stay the eff out of a basement. What saves them from that awful, awful fate is that their personalities and curiosities are believable. Since there’s nothing downright insane that happens in the first two Acts, it’s easy to forgive their faults in the ways of self-preservation. I mean, they’re into ghost hunting, they work at a supposedly haunted hotel, so why wouldn’t they dig deeper when Madeline O’Malley starts reaching out? Sure, I’d probably peace out on the first night and come back the next morning with a wrecking ball, but I’m not them, and for once, I actually get why they go to the lengths they do. They’re not idiots, they’re just curious to a fault.

They’re really funny, too, which was a nice surprise. Most of the scares in the first half of the movie are actually made up of them scaring each other either intentionally or otherwise, and each time time it goes off without a hitch, it just makes you like them more. We’ve all been scared by our friends the way these two friends scare each other. Very interesting blend of horror and humor, even for what we’re used to getting from horror comedies. Solid performances from Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, too.

And nice to see Kelly McGillis in a movie again. Where the heck’s she been?

For a genre that tends to be crippled and written off because each new movie is just like the last one, only worse, it’s hard not to admire all the tricks you can teach an old dog with the right person behind the wheel. The Innkeepers ain’t scoring too high in the originality department, but it’s amazing how little that actually matters. Since the scares aren’t cheap, since the characters aren’t stupid, and since Ti West has flat-out mastered the art of tension-building, I was looking a hot mess during this thing. Seriously, I had to force myself to multitask on Facebook just to distract me from having to suffer the full force of how scary this was. This, boys and girls, is why you don’t watch horror movies by yourself. I thought I’d already learned that lesson with The Orphanage, but since I’m an idiot, I did it anyway.

Totally worth the four hours of sleep I got.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2012 6:51 am

    Okay…from your review I feel I need to check this out but I didn’t think much of the trailer.

    • June 14, 2012 7:08 am

      Screw the trailer, trust the review. I’m tellin’ you, man, it’s awesome and it’s scared the tar out of me.

      • January 9, 2014 6:53 pm

        Finally got around to seeing this Aidan and have to say I thought it was rubbish. This is the first Ti West movie I’ve seen and may well be the last. The Innkeepers had very little to interest me plot wise, and felt like a cheap Shining knock-off. Some poor acting, cliche after cliche, artificial jumps (just pointless after the first one) and an ending that felt unfulfilling. For a film with such a lightweight plot it needed characters to make me care but it didn’t have them.

  2. June 26, 2012 9:40 am

    Most people describe West as a “slow-burn” kind of guy, and I have to say, The Innkeepers is the first movie that fits that description and does the slow-burn thing well. I loved it.

    • June 26, 2012 9:53 am

      Same here, man.

      And I know the whole “found footage” thing needs to die already, but are you as amped for V/H/S as I am?

      • June 26, 2012 9:57 am

        I actually saw it at IFFBoston this year! (SHAMELESS PLUG: West, I hate to say, produced one of my least favorite of the segments, though the slasher-in-the-woods one is fucking horrendous.

        Still worth seeing for Bruckner, Swanberg, and Radio Silence, though! It’s also just a good instructional on how to do found footage well and how to do it terribly wrong.

      • June 26, 2012 9:59 am

        You bastard…

        Well that’s semi-good to hear as I’ll totally be seeing it. Good review, man.

  3. August 5, 2012 5:19 am

    A first time reader of your blog – was enjoying it till I reached the Innkeepers review. 9/10? I found the movie really tedious and difficult to sit through. Gave up mid way through.

    • August 8, 2012 9:00 am

      Haha. Well I’m glad you enjoyed it at least for a short time. People seem to be a tad divided over this movie, but what can I say, it scared the poop out of me. Did such a great job of drawing out scares, making them unexpected, and not making them cheap. Thought the two lead characters were pretty fantastic and funny, too. Idk, probably not preaching to the choir, but it worked like gangbusters for me.

      Hope you enjoy the rest of the blog outside of this little hiccup!

      • August 14, 2012 4:05 am

        Great to see someone take criticism in a positive vein :-). Yes, I have been visiting it for updates and looking up archives for other movies we may have both seen. cheers.

      • August 15, 2012 4:01 pm

        Right on! I am to please.

  4. Phil permalink
    May 8, 2013 4:07 pm

    It was shit, one of the worse horror films ever, absolute no story line or very poor, boring in fact that boring I fell asleep, the only thing good was the laptop scene at beginning, annoying actors especially that silly girl who had all the horror characteristics of a snail. At no point did she convince me she was acting well laughable acting, joke CGI GHOSTS!!! and a ending that was not really explained. I’m a big horror fan and when u compare it to films like paranormal activity u realise just how pants this film was lol

    • May 8, 2013 4:13 pm

      Oh, man. Sorry to hear you didn’t like it. But idk, I’d still take this over Paranormal Activity (or any of its 20 sequels) every time. Good on ya’ for giving a try though, can’t win ’em all.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Phil permalink
    May 9, 2013 11:40 am

    Well I have not had a film scare me like paranormal activity in ages, well 4th kind is probably the most scary film so far for me anyway,solid storyline, jumps and scares that pull u in from start to finish and the build up in paranormal activity and 4th kind are the best I have seen, but that’s just my opinion as some will love inn keepers and some will dislike, I was more disappointed as I was really looking forward to watching it having saved it on my sky plus as a one to watch for later type film (as we do lol) but never mind. And no worries Aiden pal, glad to see plenty of people like me who are horror fans 😉

    • May 9, 2013 11:43 am

      Haha. Well if it’s any consolation, I haven’t had too much luck finding other folks who liked this anywhere near as much as I did. And if it’s jump-out-of-your-seat scares that you’re, this certainly isn’t the place to go.

      HOWEVER, have you had the fortune of seeing The Descent or The Orphanage yet? If not, they are right up your alley, man.

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