"THIS WILL BE THE MOST TERRIFYING FILM YOU'LL SEE ALL YEAR!" screamed the man introducing THE INKEEPERS to the Monday night FANTASIA crowd. It was a big promise - one that I was ready to take with a grain of salt.
I'll be up front right off the bat and say I wasn't a fan of Ti West's HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. I thought it looked great, had style to spare, but that it was empty under the hood. Still, Ti West comes off as a passionate guy in interviews and I was ready to give the man another chance. All he had to do was ditch the nostalgia and make something compelling that works on its own merits.
THE INKEEPERS deals with the last weekend of work for two twenty-somethings (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) desk clerks at an old hotel. With only two occupants, the place is almost empty, and its the last chance for the two clerks to get proof that the hotel is actually haunted. They've got their recorders, they've got their wits, and they've got nothing to lose. What else are two college drop outs going to do with their lives?
The most surprising thing about THE INKEEPERS is that its genuinely funny - and it all stems from the two likeable leads. In a film that's so sparse (it all takes place in the one hotel location) you have to rely on your actors to carry the weight of the entire production. No worries here. Sara Paxton's plucky turn will have her cast in indie films for years to come and Pat Healy's droll performance is a perfect counter point to Paxton's manic energy. You'll wish the duo could go off on an another adventure the moment the end credits roll.
THE INKEEPERS is a straight up 'Spooky Ghost Movie'. The characters wander down empty hallways, enter dark rooms, and listen for scary sounds. There are no chases. There are no gory killings. It's all about mood and feel. As the writer/director/editor of the picture West shows talent and creativity on all fronts. The camera is surprisingly mobile as it glides effortlessly through scenes that play out in long uninterrupted takes. West knows a good scare isn't the nature of the BOO but the build up. He uses silence, darkness and faint eery sounds to raises the goosebumps - and when the tension release finally arrives - the audience doesn't feel cheated. The film still has the slow breezy pace of his earlier work, but now that there's actually meat on the bones, it never feels dull or pointless. Everything gels together incredibly well.
My only real beef with the film is that it poses a lot of questions are never answered. Character are continually on the cusp of revealing something seemingly important, but are pulled back at the last moment. None of it really pertains to enjoying the events that unroll on screen, but why promise contextualization if you're not going to deliver? It feels like there's a whole bunch of deleted scenes that would have filled in the gaps.
You want a scary movie that doesn't rely on bloody splatter? Then THE INKEEPERS is for you. It has great characters, tons of scares and a bunch of laughs. Is it the scariest film I've seen all year? I can honestly answer that question with one sound that sprang from my lips a dozen times during the film: 'ARGGGH!'