Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
It’s always interesting to see what each year brings to the horror genre. Earlier this year we were graced with The Witch an uncomfortable tale about a puritan family moving into the new England wilderness in the 1630’s. Last year and the year before that gave us Goodnight Mommy and The Babadook. Interestingly, each film deals with family in the face of evil. Over the weekend I was able to enjoy 2011’s sleeper hit, The Innkeepers, which is still surprisingly unique given the amount of time since the film’s release.
The Innkeepers stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as the last two employees at the Yankee Pedlar Inn on its final weekend before closing. During their weekend they spend their time trying to find evidence of spiritual activity in an attempt to try and reignite interest in the hotel. Obviously, the more the two look for hauntings, the more weird things begin to happen around them.
One of the things that is both an advantage and disadvantage to the film is the small cast. Apart from the two leads there are only 5 other real characters in the movie. This gives plenty of time to get to know the two protagonists and their relationship with each other and the hotel. Sara Paxton’s character, Claire, is clearly very immature. We never discover how old she is supposed to be but we can infer from the movie she is supposed to be a lot older than she acts. Her counterpart, Luke (Pat Healy) appears to be in a similar state, however he is much older than Claire. At first Claire’s youthful exuberance comes across as annoying and over the top, until you realize that is how her character is supposed to be. There are a few moments that appear over-exaggerated, but for the most part her character remains fairly consistent through the film. Pat Healy probably has the best performance out of the two protagonists. There’s never a moment when he seems like anything other than an older guy friend or a brother figure to Claire. With the exception of Lena Dunham, all of the extra’s serve their purposes. The “angry mother” was angry. The “old man” was old, and appropriately creepy.
The story itself is incredibly simple compared to many other horror films. The two characters spend their time recording various rooms in the hotel in an attempt to discover the ghost of Madeline O’Malley who supposedly died in the hotel. With the help of a spirit medium (Kelly McGillis) staying in the hotel, the two find more than they bargained for. No ghosts are actually scene until much later in the film. I’ve heard this film described as a slow burn and that is a very accurate description. A lot of what makes this film effectively creepy, and by extension, scary, is how little it reveals. Before the film begins a title card encourages the viewer to turn up the volume on their television in order to hear everything the film has to offer. Every scene with the tape recorder is riddled with background noises and whispers that are so faint you’ll believe you’re imaging them. The sound effects paired with long, slow camera takes creates thick tension for each and every haunting scene. Borrowing from Hitchcock and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the scariest parts of this film are the things that aren’t there; the parts of the puzzle that your mind fills in. Like any horror movie The Innkeepers is not without flaws. There are one too may fake jump scares, which takes away from the story in a few parts, and the ending might leave some people dissatisfied.
Speaking of the ending, lets talk about that. While some might be left dissatisfied, the ending itself is a brilliant continuation of the theme The Innkeepers sets up. The whole film is spent letting the viewer fill in the gaps and imagine what horrible thing is haunting the hotel. This is helped along by a few creepy moments with the spirit medium and a foreboding warning about the basement. Once the characters are in the basement, we’re scared for them because we were warned about the basement and we know that something is there. We never find out if there’s anything actually in the hotel, or the basement, until the very end, and by then the scene is so short you are almost unsure if it was imagined or it actually happened. The ending leaves so many things uncertain and that’s what makes it great. The film gives you enough exposition to get you scared, but not enough to ruin the scare itself.
The Innkeepers is very different from the normal horror film. Its long, its slow, and it leaves you with less information than you started with. The entire movie is almost an indie homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining without the murderous father bit. After its ends you’re almost angry that you spent the time to watch it, but after some thought its easy to see why its such an effective horror movie with an incredibly simple story.