The American horror industry may not have earned it of late, but it needs more filmmakers like Ti West. That's not to say that it needs more movies exactly like West's ethereal 'The House of the Devil,' but that the genre needs directors who drain everything they have into making a movie; who make deeply personal films because they themselves need to make them, not because they're hunting for the next big trend in horror movies. Horror is a genre plagued with filmmakers who crib from the masters that came before them while offering nothing of themselves for future filmmakers to draw inspiration from. Except for Ti West, of course, whose latest film, 'The Innkeepers,' is radiant with inspiration.
Sara Paxton and Pat Healy star as Claire and Luke, totally ordinary co-workers who are left to run things at The Yankee Pedlar, a supposedly haunted hotel about to fold under after having been in business for over one hundred years. When not tending to the nearly zero guests renting rooms, Claire helps Luke pursue his dream of hitting it big time by cashing-in on the recent upsurge of ghost-related media. They take shifts wandering the old inn with an outdated recorder, hoping to catch EVP phenomena that will put Luke's dinky website on the map. As you can no doubt guess, creepiness eventually ensues.
That's obvious for anyone who has seen 'The House of the Devil.' What you won't guess, however, is how genuinely funny 'The Innkeepers' is. I'm not talking an occasional gag to give the suspense some levity, either, I'm talking about 'The Innkeepers' being a full-on, heartfelt comedy that keeps the laughs coming throughout.
Until Claire thinks she's capturing legitimate supernatural phenomena, that is. Once that happens, all bets are off.
The big problem that most people will have with 'The Innkeepers' is that "once that happens" takes far too long to actually happen. But if you felt 'House of the Devil' took an indulgent amount of time for too little pay off, even you might feel differently here. The relationship between Claire and Luke is so achingly realistic that West consistently keeps you captivated by everything the pair is doing no matter how mundane it is. You're sold on their dynamic instantly and sink deeper and deeper into their lives every step of the way.
There are a surprising number of jump scares throughout the movie, which may offend the sensibilities of genre purists who feel loud noises and sudden pop-outs are an easy crutch. And while I'd normally side with that camp, West makes their usage work here thanks to the humor involved. These moments aren't just jump scares, they're jump laughs. They further establish the duo's mood at the time and, as mentioned, it's all about the duo.
When it isn't startling you with innocuous things exploding out of dark places, however, 'The Innkeepers' delivers sustained creepiness thanks to West expertly reining in the triumvirate of Graham Reznick's hauntingly rich sound design, Eliot Rockett's eerily calm cinematography and Jeff Grace's sizable score. These four have been working together on most of West's films, each collaboration yielding a refined and sophisticated sense of dread. Of course this last effort is no exception, and when they decide to make your heart race, they do so without fail.
Perhaps what's most amazing about 'The Innkeepers', however, isn't that West can use some of the best horror technicians/artists in the business to scare you, rather that he can create characters this emotionally resonant. Claire and Luke, both beautifully realized by their respective actors, aren't just types, they're us; relateable and wholly believable people who behave not just plausibly, but rationally. Though it's externalized on us, the actual horror here is completely subservient to the characters, making the events in 'The Innkeepers' less about what is going to scare the audience and more about what scares Claire and Luke. It's this profound synchronicity between what the audience thinks and feels and what the characters feel - a synchronicity all too often missing from most horror movies - that elevate West's already remarkable instincts even higher.