The Innkeepers (2012)
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.