Published Feb 02, 2012With The House of the Devil and now The Innkeepers, director Ti West has demonstrated an affinity for building atmosphere, lingering on eerie moments and environments for maximum unease, while juxtaposing his existentially listless female protagonists with discomforting social outcasts. He has a keen eye for the peculiar and a preoccupation with nostalgia and minutiae that serves him well on a superficial level, acknowledging the tropes of his horror predecessors of the '70s and '80s, but doesn't tend to say or do anything with this admirable mimicry.
This is of particular significance in The Innkeepers, wherein Connecticut inn employees Claire (Sara Paxton) and the older, dorkier Luke (Pat Healy) spend their last days of employment trying to save the economically struggling landmark by proving the many rumours of hauntings true. The awkward, tomboyish Claire (cleverly played as goofy and idiosyncratic, yet moderately intelligent, by Paxton) mostly just placates her asexual pervert co-worker for minor amusement, but eventually becomes invested when she witnesses possible proof of a ghost firsthand.
Much like Devil, this ode to low-grade haunting movies of past years, with its cheap on-screen titles reminiscent of Canada Heritage commercials and clever manipulation of limited set geography, works best when building up, following Claire through the hallways and various rooms of the inn after dark. Similarly, her off-centre exchanges with forgotten television celebrity Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) and a discomfortingly candid barista exploit the clumsy comedy of socialization between vastly differing ideologies.
Unfortunately, once everything is built up with simultaneously funny and creepy aplomb, West doesn't know what to do with it. There's no deconstruction of the genre or awareness of what nostalgia might mean in a modern context, leaving him to resort to cheap, schlocky scares that hit abruptly and without grace. In fact, this rather desultory and predictably trash denouement manages to degrade the fine work and intriguing characterizations prior.
Perhaps this was an attempt to reference a genre that often devolved into lackluster or ludicrous finales, but the cheap, rushed feeling suggests more so that he simply didn't know where to go with his setup. It's as though West has the machinations and aesthetics of directing down, he just isn't conscious enough of modernity in relation to the work he's referencing to make his movies anything more than minor, context-free amusements. (Dark Sky)