Director: Ti West
Cast: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy
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There’s something about corridors that freaks people out. Is it the ghost of The Shining lurking around the corner? Ti West does well to avoid it in his haunted hotel flick, The Innkeepers. Joining lacklustre staff members Claire (Paxton) and Luke (Healy) for the last few days of business, West’s workplace hangout feels closer to The Office than a horror movie – and that defiantly low-key shamble is both its best feature and its biggest flaw.
Running around the mostly empty Yankee Pedlar Inn, our two colleagues change towels and collect keys with surprising enthusiasm. Half in love with the old place, as well as (you suspect) each other, they spend their shifts racing to ring the front desk bell and making each other jump.
It’s natural, then, that the first major shock comes from a prank – a long-held camera shot that ends with a sudden bang. We know it’s coming. They know it’s coming. Everyone screams. West understands the logic of horror, the build-up of suspense and the release, but gets far more pleasure out of the former. His slow camera patiently pans across a room or down a hallway, leaving noises off-screen until the last moment – or just unseen altogether.
It’s a carefully crafted style that mounts an atmosphere, but the secret to The Innkeeper’s hold is its central couple. Interacting awkwardly with guests (watch out for Top Gun’s Kelly McGillis as a washed-up actress-turned-alcoholic-psychic), they inhabit a geeky bubble that’s quite adorable. As much down to the actors as the script, Healy milks his Simon Pegg-ish nerd vibe, while Paxton plays on her pixie-like innocence as an unknowing potential source of the scares.
And yet, for all its tense EVP scans and spooky door slams (the eerie sound editing is excellent), The Innkeepers doesn’t quite manage the leap into full-on fright-fest. Rather, the most effective moment is when mostly-drunk McGillis asks Claire, in a sneering, polite tone what she does – Paxton’s sad inability to answer, mixed with her and Healy’s dorky humour, makes the film feel more like a cute rom-com that just happens to be set in a creepy location.
Are the ghosts real? With a double-act like this, do we even need the ghosts in the first place? The Innkeeper’s triumph is to reach that point of realism, building up a strong head of spooky steam, even if the all-too-familiar final reel (full of silly decisions and unscary ghouls) is a slightly disappointing answer.
The Innkeepers is available on Shudder UK, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, or £49.99 yearly membership. It is also on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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