Loud noises and jump scares aren’t scary. They’re just surprising. Gruesome kills and torture scenes aren’t scary. They’re shocking. Even though he’s also responsible for direct-to-DVD dreck like <i>Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever</i>, 2009’s <i>The House of the Devil</i> landed writer/director Ti West a permanent spot on my radar. The truly scary (and fun) ’80s horror homage dealt with the disturbing subject matter of Satanic ritual sacrifice and wouldn’t feel at all out of place on a double-bill with <i>Rosemary’s Baby</i>.
As with <i>The House of the Devil</i>, West is in no hurry to get things moving in the first half of <i>The Innkeepers</i>. He knows most of the fun is in the anticipation, so he spends plenty of time building his characters. Underachieving 20-somethings Claire and Luke (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) are left in charge of a rickety old hotel during its final weekend in business while their boss vacations in Barbados.
Their relationship is good for plenty of laughs early on, and of course, any time you put smart people in a job they are far overeducated for, it’s comedic gold. Trust me, there’s a feature length documentary about an eccentric group of parking lot attendants called <i>The Parking Lot Movie</i> that focuses on that exact phenomenon. And since the hotel has just two guests, which seems to be about the norm, they get bored and start thinking much deeper than what their job entails. Paxton has a cute, youthful charm, while Healy does well with his sour character’s repressed feelings for his co-worker.
Claire and Luke are convinced the hotel has some sort of haunted past, and this being their last chance to obtain any sort of evidence, they spend the majority of their time investigating paranormal activity. Kelly McGillis (yes, the Kelly McGillis from <i>Top Gun</i>) later checks in, playing a former actress who now works as a psychic, so she has plenty to add to the ghost hunt.
West certainly knows how to handle a camera, using all sorts of interesting camera movements to immerse the viewer into the search. But the most frightening and interesting shots have to do with what he doesn’t show. In one scene, Claire warns Luke “she (the ghost) is right behind you.” Luke never turns around to look at the ghost and West never shows us what Claire sees, instead offering rotating close-ups of the fear in the eyes of our two leads. Oddly enough, Luke is even more scared than Claire and proceeds to sprint out of the room, perhaps a microcosm of the entire horror genre. Less is more. What you can imagine with your own mind is probably worse than what’s actually there.
While I know for sure that creepy cults and satanists are real, I don’t believe in psychics and ghosts. So on that level, <i>The Innkeepers</i> didn’t scare me quite as much as <i>The House of the Devil</i>. But everyone has their own personal fears, so if the paranormal is your poison, you’re quite likely to be spooked by <i>The Innkeepers</i>. If not, you’ll probably still have a lot of fun.