Ti West isn’t through with spooky edifices yet. He returns, after his slow-burning “The House of the Devil,” with “The Innkeepers,” a very different kind of horror film. While “House of the Devil” was a tense homage to the babysitters-in-peril bloodbaths of the late ’70s and early ’80s, “The Innkeepers” is casually hip, a product of the Whatever generation. Perhaps fittingly, it doesn’t add up to much, and that’s disappointing. But it’s a lot of fun along the way.
Most of it is very funny, in a low-key, mumblecore kind of way, focused on two aimless twentysomethings who work at a quaint New England inn called the Yankee Pedlar. They are Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), and they are about to return to their natural state of unemployment on account of the Yankee Pedlar is closing forever. They are the only two employees on duty over this final weekend, assisting the two or three lingering guests and killing time.
The Yankee Pedlar, like most old things in New England, is supposedly haunted. Luke runs a Geocities-style website documenting the “evidence,” which mostly consists of a standard legend — young lady committed suicide after being jilted; her ghost roams the halls; yada yada — and video clips of doors closing by themselves. He says he’s had contact with the resident ghost in the past. With the hotel about to be shuttered, he and Claire see this weekend as their last chance to obtain proof.
They are not the type of people to expend a lot of effort, though. Mostly they sit around the hotel lobby amusing one another, being playful in the manner of people who are friends at work but probably not anywhere else. The actors, Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, are marvelously charismatic, presenting Claire and Luke as real, normal, believable characters. We’re essentially just hanging out with them for a good chunk of the film, and we’re glad to do so.
Then, of course, there is spooky stuff. One of the hotel guests is a former sitcom actress (Kelly McGillis) turned spiritualist, which comes in handy. Claire starts to be a true believer in supernatural phenomena, though she finds it more entertaining than genuinely scary. At first, anyway.
When the big scares come, they do not come suddenly. Instead, West builds tension steadily and gradually, eventually delivering some good funhouse terror. There’s a solid 30 minutes that’s as well-paced and thrilling as any horror film in recent memory, buoyed by the naturally humorous characters. I don’t think there are any “jokes” in the movie; the laughs arise organically. The scares are slightly more contrived, but still generally effective.
What’s disappointing about the film is its ending. To be more specific, it doesn’t have one. The story seems to be moving toward an explanation, or a climax, or an ironic twist, or something, and instead it just … ends. Is this a cop-out? A meta-comment on horror films? A mistake? I don’t know. All I know is the film, which is good, would have been a lot better if West had stuck the landing.
B (1 hr., 45 min.; )