On its last night the Toronto After Dark Film Festival concluded its sixth year and the very strong program concluded with one of my most anticipated films, Ti West's The Innkeepers.
The Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing its doors for good. With only a couple guests left on the final weekend the last two employees, Luke and Claire, take it upon themselves to find proof that the hotel is haunted by the spirit of Madelyn O'Malley. Madelyn was a bride to be who was left by her fiancé on her wedding day so she killed herself in her hotel room. The owners of the hotel wanted to avoid a controversy so they hid her body in the basement for three days. Some say her spirit has never left. While they divide shifts Claire takes Luke's EVP microphone to collect evidence. She begins to hear things.
Okay. Back story about The Innkeepers. The hotel they used for the location was the same hotel they stayed in when they were filming The House of the Devil. There are claims that it is haunted and when the cast and crew were staying there, there were unexplained events, televisions turning on by themselves and phones ringing with no one on the other end, and while that doesn't add up to much Ti West also told the audience during the Q&A afterwards that every night he had very vivid dreams and that had never happened before or since. One of the rooms they chose for the shoot, because West wanted a room at the end of a long hallway so he could create dolly shots, is 'the haunted room'. So that, combined with West's own lifetime of menial minimum wage jobs, make up the basic structure and story of The Innkeepers. It is sort of autobiographical in that way.
The success of The Innkeepers isn't so much about how scary it becomes once Claire and Luke make contact with O'Malley. Don't worry about that, it is plenty scary enough for everyone. But because so much of the film is about the relationship between Claire and Luke, how they are coping with the closing of the hotel, attempting to make contact with O'Malley, their future and how they see one another. If this relationship doesn't work then the film fails because without endearing us to them they simply become ghost fodder that we don't care about and do not emotionally invest in. But my hat goes off to Sarah Paxton as Claire. She carries this film from beginning to end. If Claire wasn't already the near-perfect 'Girl Next Door' you would still want to take her home to mom. Sarah Paxton is absolutely delightful to watch in this film.
Some notable differences between Innkeepers and House. The Innkeepers is a much louder film, relying more on sound and music to create the mood and dread whereas in House the lack of it was what gnawed at your bones and kept you on edge. The Innkeepers is also a considerably more playful film, both in much stronger comedic elements and in West's direction; the camera moves at a tremendous pace sometimes. So while it is distinctively a West film, revisiting that 'old fashioned' feel of horror films from the 80s, a tag that West does not mind at all, it is also very different from his prior film. It is proof that West can be very much diversify his direction yet still maintain his own distinct vision of the horror genre.
My only gripe with this film is its volume. I was a tad bit sad to see the scares amped up as much as they were; but I understand it as a staple of the ghost genre. I'm allowed not to like that but for those of you who are less of a dick about it than I am the film is still very much good, scary fun. If it doesn't hit a festival near you it will be On Demand on December 30th and in Theatres February 3rd. That is a hell of a long wait for a ghost movie this good.