Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
February 2012

The Innkeepers

Plenty of room at the Inn

'The Innkeepers' is a bizarrely ineffectual blend of horror and comedy

The Innkeepers
Magnet Releasing
Director: Ti West
Screenplay: Ti West
Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, Alison Bartlett, Lena Dunham and George Riddle
Rated R / 1 hour, 40 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

The strangest reaction to a movie is a non-reaction, which is the exact reaction I had toward Ti West's The Innkeepers. It's not that I was naturally apathetic toward it - it's more that apathy was hoisted upon me. It was the only sensible response.

Here's a movie with strong filmmaking, a solid cast, confidence in its aesthetic qualities and well-versed in its chosen genres, and yet it winds up leaving virtually no imprint. It is, on its face, a horror film - or rather, more a spookhouse type, set at an old, potentially haunted hotel that's getting ready to shut its doors for good after one final weekend.

Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are manning the hotel all weekend - though they aren't doing a very good job of it. They're flippant to the guests, they always forget to leave towels in the rooms, and they spend most of their time trying to find evidence of a notorious haunting somewhere in their hotel. Oh, and flirting. (Well, Claire doesn't seem all that aware that she's flirting. But she is.)

Here's where my confusion begins: The Innkeepers is not a scary or even especially suspenseful movie. But, I'm not sure it's intended to be. OK, fine. It has a defined sense of humor holding its horror at bay, and seems to be going more for playfully ghoulish, low-key horror-comedy. Except it's not particularly funny, either. That's the problem with stylistic mash-ups sometimes - it's impossible to be a good hybrid when you haven't mastered either part of the equation (see: Cowboys & Aliens).

And, in case you were wondering, there's nothing terribly noteworthy or unique or fun about the story, either. It's your typical run-of-the-mill haunted-house setup.

What's missing here isn't a lack of skill but a lack of inspiration. Why was this movie even made? What did West think he was bringing to the table? Whatever the case, all we're left with is a pretty well-made movie that arrives nowhere and accomplishes nothing. It's absolutely watchable, at times even mildly enjoyable - but it doesn't excite any of the senses. It just sits there being efficiently adequate.

Looking back at it, the film seems like it's not committed enough to either the suspense side or the funhouse/comedy side, so the net result is it doesn't pull off either one. For instance: One of the guests at the hotel is a once-famous actress named Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), who has reinvented herself as something of a psychic. Knowing this piece of information, we are fully aware that, sooner or later, those psychic abilities are going to come into play.

Sure enough, Claire has an encounter of her own and solicits Leanne's assistance. She obliges, and the result is a series of ominous warnings about an imminent danger, don't go in the basement, etc, etc, and so forth. This, needless to say, is immediately followed by Claire getting herself into danger and, yes, going into the basement.

Now, my problem isn't with the psychic plot device, or any of the plot devices - what I'm concerned with is the film's tone, or lack thereof. The psychic bit is all a bit silly, but without being funny; yet, aside from a few cheap jump-scares, it's not suspenseful, either. It's as if West is trying to strike too much of a balance. But as far as I'm concerned, it's better to go whole-hog on both ends and wind up with glorious stylistic chaos than hedge your bets and wind up with a non-starter like this one.

Still, the film has its share of strong moments - moments I wish the rest of the film could hold up against. There's one apparition that pops up right in Claire's bed, and it's one of the only moments in the film that strikes the right balance between campy fun and genuinely creepy. And Paxton's reaction to this moment (in fact, her reaction to several of her apparent encounters) is priceless. But unfortunately, she's fighting an uphill battle in a movie whose aesthetic is far too thin.

Despite my ambivalence about The Innkeepers, I still look forward to seeing what West has in store next. He caught my (and many others') attention three years ago with The House of the Devil, which was a great horror film for an hour or so before stumbling into an immensely lazy third act. It was an accomplished film nonetheless, but I felt then (and still feel) that far greater work lies ahead of him.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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