From Ti West, the director who shook the world with the awesomeness that is House of the Devil, the subtle and claustrophobic ghost story The Innkeepers is now available on DVD from Dark Sky Films. Featuring twitchy and adorable Sara Paxton and veteran of throaty sarcasm Kelly McGillis, Innkeepers suffers slightly from its immersive fealty to atmosphere above intricate story development, but despite some pointedly unsatisfactory notes, it’s still a well-crafted horror film with great characters and a solid cast, that’s actually, true-to-God scary for a change.
During the final week of business for the soon-to-be-defunct Yankee Pedlar Inn, a once popular historical tourist attraction driven into gradual bankruptcy by the ubiquitous encroachment of corporate hotel chains, disgruntled misfit employees Claire (Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) have agreed to commemorate the loss of their minimum wage employment by bellying up for an epic stretch of overlapping twelve-hour shifts, taking turns sleeping in the vacant rooms upstairs and manning the deserted front desk. With a crotchety former actress (McGillis) and a grumpy mother and son as the only registered guests, Luke and Claire pass the hours by obsessing over the Yankee Pedlar’s folk-legendary ghost-in-residence, a jilted bride who committed suicide in the inn on her wedding night over a hundred years ago.
When Claire’s makeshift ghost-hunting equipment begins registering inexplicable piano music and bumps in the night downstairs, her curiosity overwhelms her fear, even as Luke grows increasingly skeptical. Determined to make contact with the spirit world and lay the tortured soul of the Pedlar’s ghost (or ghosts) to rest, Claire stubbornly follows a breadcrumb trail of intuitive clues and mountingly bizarre otherworldly phenomena through the Pedlar’s darkened corridors, not realizing that the forces she’s tracking may be more than she’s prepared to reckon with.
Innkeepers is heavy on atmosphere, and the sense of oppressive weirdness it cultivates is jarringly effective. Its tiny cast does a great job too, embodying their characters so believably that it’s hard not to feel immediately engrossed in the minutiae of their daily existence. The film’s major slip-ups are slightly awkward pacing and inconclusive storytelling, with an ending that feels more perfunctory and less satisfying than the rest of the film truly deserves. The first two thirds of Innkeepers are so engrossing that watching it peter out at the end without a more tangible payoff is especially disappointing. West seems determined to create a subterranean atmosphere of quiet, almost subliminal storytelling, and when he succeeds, it feels perfect. It’s possible some of his ideas just weren’t fully articulated, but regardless, the movie feels uneven, and is a flawed gem at best.
Highlighting the film’s strong cast and aura of palpable unease, Dark Sky Films’ disc includes two separate commentary tracks, one with the behind-the-scenes technical crew, and another with the director and cast, plus a short behind-the-scenes featurette. Innkeepers might not be the director’s strongest film, but it’s a compelling experiment to say the least, and its strong cast and bone-chilling mood cut deep enough to make it worthy of at least one viewing in spite of its narrative drawbacks.