Graveyard Shift: “The Innkeepers”

October 8, 2012

With The House of the Devil, writer/director Ti West made a name for himself as a moody, atmospheric filmmaker, whose films brought cinema back a couple decades to a time before MTV-style editing and torture porn.  Pretty much everyone agreed this was a good thing—with the possible exception of fans of torture porn, and chances are they’re all in jail anyway.  Anyway, West’s movie was a tonic for those of us dispirited by the deluge of ADD-afflicted sadism-fests that seem to dominate the genre. It was a slow-building, vaguely tongue-in-cheek…okay, I actually reviewed that movie, so there’s no real point in wasting a lot of space recapping it. Movie good. There we go. With The Innkeepers, West followed up on his initial success, and…well, the results are spotty.

An amazing amount of nothing happens in this movie, but that’s by design. This is a very closed-in movie, taking place at pretty much one location and featuring no more than a half-dozen characters. It takes place over the final business weekend of The Yankee Peddlar Inn, a venerable old hotel in Torrence, Connecticut, that’s been dying incrementally for some time, and is about to close its doors for good. Its sole remaining employees (at least the ones we see) are a pair of slackers named Claire and Luke (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy).

Luke runs a very, very amateurish paranormal web site (seriously, this thing looks like it should be hosted on GeoCities…in 1998—I mean, it has animated .GIFs fer chrissakes). The Peddlar has a venerable old ghost story attached to it regarding a bride who committed suicide decades ago, and the two of them are hoping to find some evidence of her ghost, which supposedly stalks the halls. Mostly, though, they work at the Peddlar because they have no clue what else to do with their lives.

So, they spend the long hours on shift poking about with various pieces of jerry-rigged equipment, which, in all honesty, would probably be rejected by those guys from TAPS, or whatever they call themselves now.  The Inn is almost totally empty, with most of the rooms having been stripped, and West gets some good atmosphere out of the huge, empty spaces.

There are a few guests, though. There’s a brittle mother and her son, whose perpetual bad mood provides fodder for a lot of late-night speculation as to what she’s doing there. A more recent arrival is former actress-turned-medium Leanne Reese-Jones (Kellly McGillis, who’s apparently decided that 56 is the right age to slip into matronly roles), who is in town for a paranormal convention.

Over the course of the long weekend, Luke and Claire begin to get glimpses of the mysterious bride on their junky equipment. This slowly escalates (very slowly), until it dully freaks Claire and Luke out. Granted, they’re pretty susceptible to begin with, but eventually, even cranky Leanne is properly mortified by what she is sensing at the Inn. And that’s before the strange old man checks in, requesting a very specific room—one that is due to be decommissioned.

That pretty much takes us to the build-up to the final act, which I won’t spoil. Suffice it to say, the bride does indeed make an appearance.

Once again, West trades in the slow build-up of tension and suspense, but unlike House of the Devil, it gets tedious after a while, and the payoff isn’t quite worth the 101 minutes we’ve spent getting there. The big problem is that West has crafted a ghost story about supernatural irony that is based on the emptiness of the characters’ days at the Inn. It’s a clever idea, and I do like it, but to make it work, West forces us to experience the same tedium Luke and Claire do. This doesn’t make for terribly compelling viewing. As I said, nothing much happens here—actually a lot does happen, but it all seems like filler. Their run-ins with the kid and mother, for example, are uncomfortable to watch and go nowhere.

This would all be unbearable if West didn’t have such excellent leads. Paxton and Healy are charming in their slackerness—and not in the glib, hyper-verbal style of Kevin Smith’s characters, or the hundreds of imitators they spawned throughout the ‘90s and 00s. Luke and Claire are truly rudderless young people, latching onto the crappy web site to give their lives some purpose and to make their work meaningful.

As Claire, Paxton gives what should be a career-making performance. She’s awkward and boyish; cute, but asexual. Her movements are all either lethargic from sleeplessness or hyper-caffeinated.  A scene in which she rushes into the lobby in her underwear, only to run into a couple of guests is a great piece of physical comedy. She creates an indelible character, endearing and unlike anything else on screen.

Healy’s Luke, is more of the straight-man, but no less distinct. His hipster glasses and WTF hairstyle seem less like affectations, and more like desperate diversions from his overall schlubbiness. He’s more low-key and contemplative (well, to an extent), and seems just sad enough to suggest that he knows precisely how nowhere his life is going. He also nurses a bit of a crush on Claire, which is cute and bittersweet, since we’re never sure if it’s genuine affection or just a reaction to the fact he’s losing one of the only people in his life.

With this much quality, it’s a shame that The Innkeepers isn’t better, tighter, scarier. Still, if this is West failing, then this guy’s oeuvre in ten years is going to be amazing.


  1. I finally watched this movie and wanted to say you were spot on. Nothing happens for 99% of the movie (literally!). I was confused as to when the movie was taking place because his website looked like something from the 90s but he used the mozilla browser which is much more current. The cinematography was great, from the zooming camera when she hears a noise to the shot where she is on the couch and all you see are her hands and feet. I would have liked a better pay off at the end, or even little hints spotted through out the movie; there too much nothing in my opinion.

    Sorry, I don’t usually write so much like this, but I watched the movie after reading your review (loved House of the Devil and didn’t know about this flick) and wanted to share.

  2. No prob. I don’t mind long comments.

    I kinda wish someone would have told West to prune this thing down to 85-90 minutes or so. Funny thing is, his segment in “V/H/S” is the shortest and punchiest.

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