Joshua Reviews Ti West’s The Innkeepers [SXSW 2011 Review]

Apparently 2011 is going to be quite the year for the ghost story on the big screen.

With Insidious kick starting this year’s SXSW Film Festival with its first midnight screening, the raining ‘it’ director within the horror genre, Ti West, is back to a festival he’s called home previously, with his new film, the haunted hotel thriller, The Innkeepers.

West’s return to horror after the absolutely masterful The House Of The Devil, Innkeepers follows two employees on their final days at work, in a hotel that is on its way out of business.   As guests begin to make their way to the hotel, things slowly change.

And as with a film like House Of The Devil, Inkeepers is a slow moving thriller that ultimately suffers from a poorly paced narrative, that is barely saved by great scares, great laughs, and a director who seems to be having fun with the medium and the genre as a whole.

Starring Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as our two innkeepers, the film’s greatest aspect is its fantastic blend of humor both from the screenplay as well as the really great performances given by both of these fantastic actors, and thrills.   While the thrills themselves are sporadically placed and ultimately don’t seem to truly feed into any sort of growth fright wise, each scare itself does work, with a few real winners coming in the film’s final few moments.

West throughout his career, has seemed to be in love with the idea of a slowly moving narrative.   Something like Trigger Man or the aforementioned occult film, Devil, show that West as a director loves to let the viewer linger in the world, until playing his full hand.   Here, he gives us the most extensive look into his ability with a more comedic tone, meshing the two styles really well for the first two acts.   The tension doesn’t necessarily increase exponentially as something like fellow ghost tale Insidious, but it’s ultimately the laughs that gave the film a really interesting sense of style and tone.

Rounding out the cast of the film are Kelly McGillis, George Riddle, and in a brief turn, the always wonderful Lena Dunham, and all three give great, if not all that present performances.   Dunham is in the film for one brief scene, but is absolutely hilarious, with the supporting cast’s biggest performance coming from McGillis, who is really great as a creepy former actress-turned-psychic.   Riddle plays one of the creepier old men on celluloid in quite some time, and really gives the film a much needed sense of atmosphere in an otherwise breezy piece of horror filmmaking.

And ultimately, it’s that mix of tone that ultimately plays as both a gift, and a curse.

The lighter tone given to the first portion of the film ultimately pays off really well, as done some really great narrative symmetry, but it also makes the film seem much less fraught with tension. The film is still very much steeped in a specific era and that era’s horror films, but is given this distinct gloss and shine that only seems to amplify the film’s lack of true tension.   Ultimately an innocuous thriller, the film does very little new, within a genre and subgenre that could desperately use another shot in the arm.

However, the film wasn’t without its frights.

Primarily drawing its scares from a great score penned by Jeff Grace, the film also uses great sound design (from Graham Reznick), giving some really great moments of brooding dread that counteract the rather joke heavy opening few moments.

With regards to West’s work, it is quite a beautiful film.   Featuring gorgeous cinematography, the film isn’t short on visual acumen, outside of the realm of character design. The spirits are all very cliché, making any moment involving them far less frightening than it should truly be.   The viewer has seen this movie routinely, in both subject matter, and execution physically and visually.   Not quite as inspired as House Of The Devil, and not nearly as intense and taut as something like Trigger Man, The Innkeepers is a weirdly unchallenging film from one of today’s most gifted horror craftsmen.

Overall, The Innkeepers is far from a poor film.   Featuring a really fantastic ending, the film may fall flat in many of its attempts at horror, but it’s solely the fault of a film that didn’t quite know what it wanted to be.   A weird mishmash of tones, The Innkeepers is a fine film that ultimately doesn’t give us much of anything to chew on.   Some interesting looks at fate and a really interesting use of narrative symmetry do save the film from being solely a rainy day rental, but at this point, that exact situation seems to be the best, and truly only way, one should check out The Innkeepers.

The Innkeepers will be screening again:

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