The Innkeepers (Ti West, 2011)
Pretty much everyone I know with whom I have discussed The Innkeepers considers it a better movie than Ti West’s previous one, The House of the Devil, and one of the reasons I have held off on reviewing it for as long as I have—I actually watched it for the first time well over a year ago as I write this opening paragraph—is that after I watched it, I vehemently disagreed. Nothing has happened in the ensuing fifteen months, including rewatching sections of the movie, sometimes obsessively, and discussing it to death with a few folks to try and get what it was I’m missing, but nothing has managed to sway me from my conviction that The House of the Devil is, quite simply, a much better-made film that is more successful at tapping into the homage it’s going for than is The Innkeepers. Which is not, I should rush to add (but, curiously, I have not) to say that The Innkeepers is in any way not good. It is still, compared to most recent Hollywood horror fare, head and shoulders above anything else from a major studio you are likely to see within the next year, unless of course Ti West releases something (and doesn’t suddenly revert to the guy who made such awful movies as The Roost).
Plot: Claire (The Last House on the Left‘s Sara Paxton) and Luke (Rescue Dawn‘s Pat Healy) are the last two employees left working at a hotel that is slated for demolition, and all they have to do is get through their last weekend of unremitting boredom, go home, and then forget this place ever existed, right? Well, maybe not. They’ve never been swamped with customers, but for some reason, there’s a steady stream of them this weekend. Well, a trickle, at least. More than usual. And some of them start reporting weird occurrences on the upper floors, leading to the conclusion that, perhaps, this won’t be a boring weekend after all; Luke has long been researching the hotel’s supposedly haunted past, and Sara finds herself reluctantly drawn into his obsession. But one of the cardinal rules of dealing with haunted places: you don’t ever want to try to get the ghosts to talk to you…
It’s a fun little movie with a killer cast (Kelly McGillis, John Speredakos, Alison Bartlett O’Reilly, etc.) that spends much of its time suggesting, rather than showing, what’s going on, and on that level, it succeeds just as well as its predecessor. But I mentioned the homage factor. I kind of have to dance around it here because saying what specific movie it pays homage to would give the entire final sequence away (but if you’ve got any exposure to the history of horror film, you’ll know it the second you see it), but (a) it is obvious that West is once again paying homage here, and once you’ve seen the final sequence, going back and rewatching certain key scenes will show you it’s not limited to the end of the movie, and (b) it’s still a glancing blow, as opposed to the bullseye that was The House of the Devil vs. every Satanic Panic movie of the seventies (though if you want a specific movie, the one that always goes most through my head where The House of the Devil is concerned is The Night God Screamed, but kind of in reverse). Because of that, I think, that final sequence, and the denouement that follows it, got robbed of a lot of their power. (And oh, for the love of The Hills Have Eyes, did we really need that final shot? In case you’re wondering, Magic 8-ball says “NO.”) Still, it’s a great deal of fun; just remind yourself that the draggy sections are there for a reason. *** ½