Details: (M), 102 mins, In Cinemas 31 May 2012, United States, English
Synopsis: The Yankee Pedlar Inn is shutting its doors for good after over a century of service. Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), the last remaining employees, are determined to uncover proof of the hotel's haunted spirit. As the Inn’s final days draw near, odd guests check-in as the pair begin to experience strange and alarming events...
Strong characters carry old-school ghost story.
Claire is a fully-fleshed horror film lead, not a whimpering damsel-in-distress.
The charms of leading lady Sara Paxton and the considerable genre chops of filmmaker Ti West make for a winning formula in the old-school haunted hotel fun ride, The Innkeepers. You can see a thinly-veiled repackaging of The Shining if you look hard enough, but as many patrons will be watching through their fingers, the similarities won’t matter that much over the course of this terrific ghost story.
Having wowed midnight crowds a few years back with his ultra-scary freak-out House of the Devil (2009), writer/director/editor West tones down the splatter (a little) and macabre influence in his follow-up (finally reaching our shores after debuting over a year ago at SXSW, then screening at MIFF 2011). The focus here is on atmosphere and presenting the understandable dread of staying in an abandoned inn on the last day of its long and chequered existence.
The establishment in question is The Yankee Pedlar Inn, a charming relic of Connecticut’s colonial past but now doomed for demolition. On the last day of trading, smart-alec staffers Luke (a droll, funny Pat Healy) and Claire (Paxton) have decided to indulge their passion for the paranormal and try to capture EVP readings to confirm once and for all the existence of the building’s supposed spirit. Two late arrivals are the only guests in the hotel on this final night: ageing actress-turned-psychic Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), and a withered old man (George Riddle), burdened by memory and longing.
Left alone, Claire experiences increasing degrees of supernatural happenings. First noises, then actual manifestations; soon, the ghost of Madeline O’Malley (a grossly made-up Brenda Cooney) begins to resent the intrusion on her domain. Luke proves not quite the ghost-buster he thought himself to be, but Claire rises to challenge as the old building unloads all its ethereal secrets.
The film is very much a spine-tingler steeped in recognisable clichés, and the influence of director/producer Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) is unmistakable, but The Innkeepers ultimately defies B-movie traditions by spending considerable time establishing strong characters via believable dialogue. (Impatient gorehounds may find the deliberate pace taxing.) Claire is a fully-fleshed horror film lead, not a whimpering damsel-in-distress. Her transformation from sweet and funny hipster to trapped victim is not at the expense of the character’s humanity and dignity, and Paxton deserves considerable credit for pulling this off. All other cast are top-tier, especially Healy, whose chemistry with Paxton contributes immeasurably to audience empathy.
West also loves the widescreen. The subtle dolly-tracking in the early scenes and subsequent Steadicam work of cinematographer Eliot Rocket is masterful; his frame is fully utilised to create a seemingly vast world inside the cramped hallways and tiny rooms of the Pedlar. Jade Healy’s superb production design is a further nod to Kubrick’s classic.
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