Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Innkeepers (2012) – Review

Review: The Innkeepers is a good horror film made in the classic style, favoring slow building tension over gore, loud noises and impact cuts. The film is about two employees, Claire and Luke, working the last weekend of the Yankee Pedlar Inn before it closes for good (a real life place that is supposedly haunted; most of the filming was done onsite). The inn has a history of hauntings related to a suicide by a grief stricken bride years ago. Luke and Claire set out to find evidence of the hauntings, while killing time in the almost empty inn. Writer-director Ti West is not interested in making the typical gore centric or cheap thrill style horror film with this, as the film builds very slowly with almost no sign of the spirits (or ghosts) for most of the first half of the film. Rather, West relies on the classic tension building devices of a great creepy score, darkly lit corridors in which the camera lingers behind following the characters around each corner (the audience, influenced by the score, expecting something to jump out at any moment) and characters that the audience relates to who believe in the spirits (i.e. Claire). What is fantastic about this film is that West piles on the tension and suspense for almost the whole film before anything scary happens, but the tension gets to the point where it is almost too much for the audience to bare, completely captivating them emotionally – to varying degrees of release (I myself wanted to yell at the screen to tell Claire to get out of there). The expectation that West creates is where the fear comes from, not so much what the audience actually sees onscreen – and this is very rare in modern horror (which is too bad), be it due to shoddy filmmaking or audience demand (it is probably a little of each). Taken at face value, the spirits are not very scary. It is the buildup of tension that frightens us ultimately. West also makes the film have a mystery aspect to it (something that is easy to miss if you are not paying attention), which is often the case of the genre but West twists it enough to make it feel fresh (and well-written; though it seems that many viewers missed the reveal). However due to West building the tension slowly and the lack of thrills through most of the runtime (as it is not that kind of horror film), this is not going to work for everyone, especially those looking for the typical genre fare of late (Saw, Paranormal Activity, something gory in 3D). Also, and this is really an issue with the genre as a whole,  horror films are often predicated on their characters being overly curious, stupid and having an overall terrible decision-making ability, and this is no different almost to a frustrating degree. Claire just cannot get out of her own way (it is inevitable, I guess). The Innkeepers overall is one of the better horror films in recent years capitalizing on good storytelling, characters and directing instead of cheap thrills.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Ti West has created a good niche for himself making low-budget indie horror films (and I think this is his best to date, though The House of the Devil is good too). Though, I would like to see what he could do with a bigger budget and more established actors (not that it is completely up to him). Composer Jeff Grace’s score is one of the highlights of the film. It is spooky and sells the audience completely on the emotions they should be feeling at a given moment (here is a portion of it). It has the feel of the great classic horror scores. Eliot Rockett’s cinematography and Jade Healy’s production design plays into the realism that West wants to create for the film. Both the actors’ performances and the atmosphere are anchored in realism which allows West to so effectively build tension as the audience relates to the characters (and to some degree their choices; I however would have been gone at the first sign of ghosts, but I probably never would have gone looking for them in the first place). The Innkeepers’s success is reliant on the quality of its cast, and for the most part they are good. Kelly McGillis is okay in the film, but a strong performance in her role would have been better. Pat Healy is good as the nerdy guy who just wants to seem cool for the girl he likes (and I think one of the great things that West did with the film in making good characters was have a fun chemistry between his leads; two bored underachievers goofing off). Sara Paxton is very good in the film, carrying it well. She is willful yet pulls off being terrified superbly so that the audience is also nervous watching (I hope to see her get more starring roles in quality projects in the future).

Summary & score: The Innkeepers is a well-written, well-acted take on the classic horror thrillers of the 1970s. 7/10

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