Room service with a scream
By John DeFore
Friday, Feb. 3, 2012
Filmmaker Ti West has spent the past decade or so making horror films that, for one reason or another, don't really fit alongside the movies being offered these days to multiplex scare-seekers. His 2009 "The House of the Devil," for instance, was a babysitter-in-peril number carefully crafted to feel like some forgotten 1980 flick found in a dusty VHS bin.
In "The Innkeepers," West moves from the icky exploitation zone of "Devil" into a friendlier, mid-'80s vibe; up until near the end, in fact, you could mistake it for a low-key haunted-house comedy. Set in a Connecticut hotel that's about to shut down after a century, it focuses on the two young clerks who, in between tending to the inn's very few remaining guests, look for evidence of the ghosts rumored to haunt its halls.
Character actor Pat Healy plays the older of the two, a mildly snarky slacker who maintains a primitive Web site devoted to the ghosts. Sara Paxton is his tomboy sidekick, eager to get some paranormal evidence on tape before the two lose their jobs.
The bored banter between the two, as they tend to chores and take turns napping, sets an agreeable mood for the film and makes "Innkeepers" look promising for the first 30 minutes or so. But West believes in horror films that don't really do much of anything until the final third: Paxton may get the creeps once or twice in a darkened room, but nothing happens to make us feel the same. Instead, West diverts us with the arrival of Kelly McGillis, who plays a washed-up TV star whose rude treatment of the staff is no substitute for poltergeists.
Scary things do happen toward the end, of course, though by this point viewers will have guessed they're not going to get flashy, computer-generated specters. West mixes psychological games with old-fashioned haunting and don't-go-into-the-basement suspense, and the payoff, though arguably out of tune with the movie's first half, holds a surprise or two.
It's not going to shake up the fright-flick world one bit, but "The Innkeepers" may earn affection from genre-lovers whose memory reaches back to before "The Blair Witch Project."
Contains bloody images and some language.