The Innkeepers is a fascinating film, in that it’s really two films spliced together in a somewhat abrupt manner. The first hour and change are from a lighthearted nerd-chic paranormal investigation film, where the primary tension is the awkward but mildly amusing relationship between the two main characters, Claire and Luke. The pair are the only staff working at the Yankee Peddler hotel during its last weekend before going out of business. They’re convinced the place is haunted and intend to spend the whole weekend in the hotel, recording for EVP and doing other typical ghost-hunting stuff. Aside from a handful of guests, they’re alone in the hotel, and their banter is actually fairly humorous, lending the majority of the film a tone more akin to Juno than The Shining. There is no screen filter or trick photography, and the soundtrack resembles nothing so much as the Ghostbusters films: little goofy jazz riffs that play when something mildly out of the ordinary happens. It’s a slow-moving, quiet little study of an awkward friendship that may or may not develop into something else. As amateur ghost hunters, Claire and Luke are setting themselves up for scary things to happen, and sure enough, Claire does experience a few spooky things–spooky, in the way that The Haunted Mansion is spooky. Meaning, yeah, ghostly, but not threatening or malicious. But even the protagonists, hopeful as they are, don’t see their dabbling in the occult as anything more serious than that. Much playful heckling and flashlights-under-chin-storytelling ensues.
The last half hour or so of the film are dramatically different. Suddenly there is a supernatural threat that is very real, and the stakes go from finding evidence of a haunting to life or death so rapidly that, despite the fact that I actually liked the main characters, I couldn’t feel too bad for them when the angry ghost finally made itself known. It was simply too abrupt to register.
Clearly, the silliness of the first three-quarters, and the sudden change of pacing and tone, are quite deliberate. The film was written and directed by Ti West, who also directed the odd but effective The House of the Devil, and like that film, The Innkeepers is obviously an attempt to pay tribute to classic horror conventions even while they’re being subverted. It contains relatively little violence, focusing instead on creating, somewhat perversely, a calm, friendly atmosphere which is then deliberately shattered in the final act. There are even a few laugh-out-loud moments between Claire and Luke, which make the inevitable switch to horror-mode all the more jarring.
There isn’t a great deal more that can be said about it without spoiling everything (though truth be told, there isn’t much of a plot to begin with). Despite that, I liked this film. Sara Paxton gives a great performance as the nerdy, trusting, awkward Claire, and Pat Healy is likeably-hateable as the equally nerdy, condescending but basically good-natured Luke. It’s not frightening, really, but it’s well-crafted and feels “classic” in some way that’s difficult to describe but is, I’m sure, part of West’s directorial intent. 82/100.