Mark Reviews Movies

The Innkeepers


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ti West

Cast: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, Alison Bartlett, Jake Ryan, George Riddle, Brenda Cooney

MPAA Rating: R (for some bloody images and langauge)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 2/3/12 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 2, 2012

For chunks of its running time, The Innkeepers plays as a knowing, winking satire of the tried-and-tired haunted house genre. Its protagonists are a pair of underachievers, working at a local inn in the town where they more than likely were born and have lived out their entire lives in a sort of suspended animation. Their existence, then, is not unlike that of the specter that some say haunts this quaint little hotel, which, from a series of photographs of its history that accompany the opening credits, seems itself locked in a time capsule—constant and never changing.

The most ambition either of the main characters can muster is to start a shoddy website (complete with animated "under construction" graphics) that promises documentation of actual supernatural occurrences in the Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is scheduled to close after this final weekend of business. Conveniently enough, the inn's last guests seem tuned into the otherworldly, save for a woman with her son who just needs to get away from her husband for a weekend. Those two are here for the comic relief; the rest seem to have stumbled in from a convention for generically creepy visitors. The formerly famous actress is actually in town for a convention on the subject of spiritualism, so perhaps the old man who is unwavering in his desire to stay in a specific room on the already-vacated third floor is here for some other clandestine purpose.

If certain details of that overview sound disparate from others, they are. Writer/director Ti West spends about half of the movie undermining the conventions of the genre while expecting us to buy into those same tenets the rest of the time, especially during the frantic climax.

Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are the final two employees who will work at the Yankee Pedlar. Their boss has run away on vacation to celebrate his newfound money from selling the inn to a company that will turn the land into a parking lot. The only note he leaves behind tells them not to call him. The two will need to cover the entire weekend themselves. They've packed meals and will take 12-hour shifts at the front desk while the other sleeps in one of the many vacant rooms at the hotel.

The website is Luke's idea. A college dropout with few ambitions, he thinks it will help he and Claire cash in on the ghost phenomenon. The evidence he presents to Claire is cryptic: a video of an open door that eventually closes on its own—or from the influence of a spirit. Another video he shows her (and that West exhibits for us) as a gag is a bit more startling: It displays an empty room for long seconds until—well, Luke's assertion that what she's looking for is subtle isn't true.

That video is most telling to West's more satirical handling of the material at hand. The content of the video is the cheapest trick in the book, really, and the consequence of presenting it so early into the movie is that we're watching everything unfold with a cynical eye for the cheap tricks. You know the ones: Claire hears an odd banging coming from a cellar door behind the inn and decides to investigate the noise only to uncover—well, it certainly isn't what she most feared and what we know will eventually come into play.

The cellar, by the way, is important to the Yankee Pedlar's backstory. Years and years ago, a woman by the name of Madeline O'Malley met a terrible fate there. Her lover jilted her, and she hung herself in the honeymoon suite. Fearing the bad publicity that would inevitably arise when word of a suicide within the hotel got out (This is before the days of websites, television shows, movies, books, etc. dedicated to paranormal activities), the owners unceremoniously dumped her body down in the cellar. As a result, her spirit has haunted the building ever since and—well, let's just say she still isn't happy about the whole thing.

Most of the movie is in the buildup. Luke relates the terrible story of Madeline O'Malley to Claire, who in turn tells it to the son (Jake Ryan) of the angry mom (Alison Bartlett), who scolds Claire for filling her son's head with such garbage for no other reason than to scare him. This, along with some other information, sets up the possibility that Claire's resulting visions and the noises in the hotel could be a figment of her imagination, though Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), a television actress who now works in the field of listening to spirits of the departed, is certain bad things are in store for Claire.

As skilled as the craft on display might be, it's unclear whether West intended to make a comedy and wound up making a horror movie or that he set out to make a horror movie and wound up with a comedy. That question is the one that haunts The Innkeepers even more than whether or not everything is happening inside of Claire's head—a query the final shot of the movie seems to answer. Unless, of course, West is just having one last laugh.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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