Friday, January 27, 2012

Movie Review: "The Innkeepers" (VOD) by Ben Foutch

The Innkeepers (VOD)
Director: Ti West
Actors: Sarah Paxton, Pat Healey
Release: 2011
Run Time: 100 min

There is no escaping the fact that we are living during a time where graphic torture and paranormal found footage films are dominating the attention for the current horror market. In order to be massively successful in horror, shock is absolutely necessary. This is why quirky, atmospherically aesthetic films, like “The Innkeepers”, deserve some recognition. This little gem directed by Ti West is not bound by the excessive nature of modern standards, but plays like an homage to the classic ghost story that builds to an intense climax.

Claire (Sarah Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healey) are sort of drifting through life, both stuck at a dead end job working in the Yankee Pedlar Inn during a going-out-of-business period. While being left in charge for the weekend, they try to obtain evidence that the ghost of Madeline O’Malley haunts the building. Throw in a psychic, a few EVP investigations, one creepy old dude, and you have yourself a recipe for some paranormal mischief. Who will live? Who will die? Is this damn place even haunted?

What makes this film work, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the performance by Sarah Paxton. Her portrayal of a directionless, albeit enthusiastic slacker is not only adorable, but downright believable. It is very rare to find realistic, non-stereotypical characters, matched with that kind of performance in a low budget horror movie. You just don’t see that very often. Usually in these types of films we get annoying, detestable, loathsome and idiotic characters just waiting to die in gruesome, satisfying ways. I guess that just showcases the difference between pro-character and anti-character horror films.

There was an interesting dialogue in the film where Claire inquires to Luke if he ever thought about his decision involving not going to college and whether he made the right life choices. He says something to the effect of everything happens for a reason. Nobody just ends up at the Yankee Pedlar. This, to me, was a good parallel to ghost stories in general. Sometimes in life we are just stuck and don’t know how to change our current situation. Much like ghosts that haunt the corridors in make believe structures featured in stories told from generation to generation, doomed to drift aimlessly till the choice is made to move on.

I really respect what West did with this film. In a time where violence is king, we get this lighthearted, yet atmospherically drenched slow-burner that isn’t afraid to dial down disturbing visuals. There are plenty of frantic, quick-cut, get in-get out movies out there, and it is refreshing to see a director totally get it. Sometimes horror is about the build-up. The fear of the unknown and sense of panic that took over like when you were old enough to believe monsters were under your bed.

“The Innkeepers” displays Ti West’s understanding of the different nuances horror has to offer. I was surprised by how much I actually cared about the characters. It is minimal, yet effective to its overall purpose. While not original, it is surely nostalgic.