Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ti West’s Innkeepers

Two soon to be laid-off hotel employees have watched far too much Syfy Channel “reality” programming. On the Yankee Pedlar Inn’s final weekend of operation, they are determined to do some serious ghost chasing. Of course, that means they are asking for trouble in Ti West’s The Innkeepers (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Having worked many late shifts, Claire and Luke have seen some mildly spooky stuff. About to be unemployed, they consider the Yankee Pedlar their ticket to some sort of tabloid payday. He has even set up their website, featuring the tragic history of the hotel and videos of mysteriously closing doors and the like. Still, they need something more conclusive and this is obviously the time to get it. They have only one or two guests left, including Leanne Rease-Jones, a former sitcom star in town for a motivational speaking gig. She also happens to be a medium.

Evidently, West and the crew of House of the Devil (his previous retro 1980’s horror outing) stayed at the Yankee Pedlar in Torrington, Connecticut, experiencing enough weirdness during the shoot to inspire their return trip. One hesitates to compare it to a classic like The Shining, but viewers can just feel something is similarly off between its walls. Without question, Innkeepers has a very strong sense of place, which directly contributes to the mood of foreboding.

To its credit, the real life Yankee Pedlar has been quite sporting about it all, allowing West to film entirely on location there, subsequently hosting the premiere party, and even disclosing it all up front on their website. Perhaps they are hoping for some of the Stanley Hotel’s Shining business.

Horror movies almost always implode down the stretch, so the real measure of their merit is the quality of the set-up. Indeed, West sets the scene quite effectively, creating an eerie backstory and vividly establishing the hotel’s ominous idiosyncrasies. However, it is the bantering, bickering chemistry of the two leads that really make the film hum. Whereas House of the Devil was a throwback to the no-frills Satanic B-movies of the eighties, Innkeepers is more akin to the hip, smart-alecky horror movies of the mid 1990’s, like Wes Craven’s Scream.

Sara Paxton and Pat Healy are genuinely funny zinging each other, and, by genre standards, they are quite convincing when dealing with the business end of the haunting. While clearly much has transpired since Top Gun, Kelly McGillis steps into the Zelda Rubinstein role credibly enough. However, it all seems to end rather suddenly and a bit prematurely (though that might also be spun as a positive sign).

While it was not necessarily the case with Devil, West clearly remembered horror movies are supposed to be fun throughout the production of Innkeepers. Clever and atmospheric, it is one of the better scary movies of the season, easily recommended for genre fans when it opens this Friday (2/3) in New York at the Village East.