Directed by Ti West
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
It’s unfortunate that, unlike in an era such as the 70s, we no longer have much in the way of slow-burn horror cinema. Even with a contemporary film that has more on its mind than being a kill-a-minute slash-a-thon (not that there’s anything wrong with those), there will inevitably be, at the very least, an opening sequence of mayhem to set the stage for the rest of the horror to eventually come. It’s all too rare to find a flick willing to just take its time with its characters before diving into full-on genre territory.
We’re lucky to still have movies that even attempt this, such as last year’s Insidious and the ridiculously successful Paranormal Activity films. However, we’re luckier still to have a filmmaker like Ti West on our side.
West, who found success with his previous The House of the Devil, has made his best film to date with the charming, character-driven comedy spookfest The Innkeepers. Featuring a great cast and a perfect location, The Innkeepers concerns a pair of paranormal enthusiasts (Healy and Paxton) who work at the purportedly haunted, and soon-to-be-closed, Yankee Pedlar Inn.
Taking advantage of the mostly empty space, and having an almost entire lack of customers to contend with, the two attempt to find some (any!) sort of evidence of the supernatural, with a little help from one of their tenants (washed-up actress/faith healer Leanne Rease-Jones, played with a perfect mix of world-weariness and venom by Kelly McGillis). Laughs and shivers ensue.
I applaud West for having no fear when it comes to his deliberately paced storytelling, both with this film and The House of the Devil. He allows the story to linger on his characters, sticking with them for long enough stretches that we almost forget what genre we’re in, even while slowly building up the tension before its inevitable release. I applaud him further for making his leads so damned likeable (helped in no small part by the performances), so much so that I’d have been happy following the two throughout a story with no supernatural or horror elements whatsoever.
Warning! Mild Spoilers Ahead!
If I have any problem with the film, it’s the final act. While the climax that we’re given is certainly hair-raising, it feels rather truncated. I’d have been happier with, if not a more elaborate chase sequence, then perhaps a somewhat longer one at the very least. And while my hat’s off to West for not shying away from a dark finale, I wonder if he chose the right one. Considering how light and fun the preceding eighty minutes had been, the ending is more than a little sobering. Imagine watching a version of Ghostbusters where Peter Venkman dies at the end. West’s choice of mood for this ending was undoubtedly deliberate, but appropriate? I’m not sure.
Still, I’m calling The Innkeepers a must-see for fans who like their horror a bit on the quiet, shivery side, and served with a helping of chuckles. For more on the film, check out Drew Tinnin’s review here.
Dark Sky has put together a nice package for the Blu-ray release of the film. The image is sharp, with inky blacks that perfectly represent West’s shadow-laden photography. The audio is a joy, too, full of unsettling noises both big and small. Oh, and it’s meant to be played LOUD (as a note preceding the film tells us), which will likely have you jumping out of your skin at the various boos! sprinkled throughout the feature.
The bonus features aren’t too skimpy, either. Dark Sky gives us two audio commentaries, a featurette, and a trailer. The commentaries (one with West and the producers, the other with West, Paxton and Healy) are both solid, though the director/cast commentary is certainly the more enjoyable of the two. Still, those with an interest in the nuts and bolts of indie filmmaking should find both to be must-listens.
The featurette is fun, if all too brief. One wishes that a far longer doc could’ve been produced, but so it goes. Rounding out the features is the theatrical trailer, which is…uh, a good trailer. As trailers go.
If you’re a fan of West’s, or of smart, creepy horror in general, you need this film for your collection. Skip the exploratory rental fee and just pick up the Blu-ray already. The Yankee Pedlar Inn eagerly awaits your arrival.
4 out of 5
3 out of 5