This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.
With the spiffiest poster I’ve seen in a while and a lot of positive buzz for The House of the Devil filmmaker Ti West, I was definitely looking forward to The Innkeepers, the closing film at Toronto After Dark. Set at a purportedly haunted inn in Connecticut, the film documents the adventures of Claire (Sarah Paxton, aka the Most Adorable Person in the World) and Luke (Pat Healy) as they work one of their last nights at the soon-to-close Yankee Pedlar Inn. Using an audio recorder, Claire plans to find proof of resident ghost Madeline O’Malley before the night is out, with help from a psychic guest (Kelly McGillis).
Utilizing long bouts of silence and continued uncertainty as to the validity of spectral presence, The Innkeepers proves West is adept at the “slow-burn” style of horror. It is incredibly tense and at points truly scary, primarily because of all the crazy what-ifs I built up in my head as the action slowly unfolded on- (and off-) screen. The exploration of sound is effective and innovative, with a lot of dark scenes propelled by sound alone. This managed to terrify me by holding so much back, but then again I am a bit of a scaredy-cat.
For all its suicidal ghost brides and ominous portent, The Innkeepers‘ success lies primarily in its remarkable development of character. Sarah Paxton is phenomenal as Claire, a relatable and innocent young lady who manages to be hilarious most of the time with effortless charm. She makes a scene that is literally just Claire taking out the garbage turn into the most entertaining thing I saw all week. I spent most of the film imagining how fun our lunch dates and sleepovers would be once we became best friends. I also totally wanted her to hook up with Luke, since Pat Healy is so helplessly nerdy it looked like he could use a good, healthy boinkfest. The extreme attachment West is able to invoke for his characters is what makes the film so engaging- I cared so strongly what happened to these people, it was a little ridiculous.
Not much actually happens in The Innkeepers, plot-wise. It’s slow, it’s dialogue-heavy, and for a ghost story there isn’t much screen time devoted to actual ghosts. And I was captivated every second. West frames his story so closely and Paxton charms to completely that I couldn’t help but give in to this movie. Plus he totally got me several times with the mere possibility of a scare during all those prolonged, high-pitched-note type of scenes.
What’s cool about this film is that it’s based on West’s real experiences. He and his crew stayed at the Yankee Pedlar while shooting The House of the Devil, and he claims that while he doesn’t believe in ghosts, this is the most haunted place he’s ever been. Doors close by themselves, everyone has freaky dreams, things move on their own, etc. The inn’s lazy employees served as inspiration for Luke and Claire. The movie is filmed at the actual Yankee Pedlar and the whole crew stayed there while filming, leading to some spooky times.
Pair This Movie With: I have yet to see West’s previous film The House of the Devil but I’ve heard it’s got a similar vibe. Otherwise, I’d say The Shining.