Reviewed by Aaron Nuewirth
The Innkeepers is a slow burn horror film that takes its time in really developing the characters, before supplying payoff in the form of thrills. It is for a viewer who can be patient and allow the story to play out at its own deliberate pace, while allowing themselves to enjoy the relationships portrayed between the people involved. It is not much of a surprise that the film came out in a limited theatrical run, while also being distributed in a Video On Demand format, because as much as I like to see films on the big screen, watching it at home felt just as appropriate, if not more so. Given my tolerance for a film of this type and my high regard for writer/director Ti West’s previous film, House of the Devil, I found The Innkeepers to be well made and fitted with funny and grounded performances. It also does have effective, spooky moments, when they do arrive.
Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The story is fairly straightforward; the Yankee Pedlar Inn is about to go out of business. Only two employees are currently on hand to watch over the few guests occupying rooms. These employees are Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy). Luke has a website devoted to actual supernatural recordings of haunted house-type occurrences and has brought in Claire to help him try to prove that the hotel has its ghosts. The rest of the film revolves around the duo displacing their boredom with jokes, conversations, interactions with the few guests, which includes elder actress Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), and trying not to freak out too much during the night.
The key thing to acknowledge about The Innkeepers is the way it is purposely made to be a slow burn. There are a few good, well-earned scares that occur over the course of the film, but Ti West has lot more fun filming so much of the movie as a tease of sorts. The Yankee Pedlar feels like the perfect location for plenty of lingering shots throughout hallways, up and down the staircases, and, of course, within the basement. The film definitely realizes this, as we are given plenty of chances to worry or be intrigued by what is going to possibly pop out, but it definitely knows that it is holding back a barrage of cheap scares in favor of more creative ones. Anyone who has seen West’s previous film, let alone appreciates an old school take on horror will certainly be fine with how The Innkeepers plays out.
What really makes this film work is the way the two key characters are developed. Given how the majority of the film focuses on developing Claire and Luke, it helps that these are fun characters to watch. Paxton’s work as Claire, in particular, is adorably dorky in a fun sort of way. The way she delivers on being excited, anxious, bored, and scared throughout this film is a lot of fun to watch and makes the light-hearted elements of this film play out quite nicely, as the film builds to more horror-focused territory. Healy’s work as Luke is also solid enough, providing someone for Claire to bounce off of her good-natured performance, while adding his own quirkiness to the film. So much of this film benefits from establishing these characters and letting us observe their actions and the relationship between them in the film.
All of this character work is important, because once the film arrives at its third act, when the craziness really does start to take over, the film benefits from how it has set itself up. I care for the people (namely Claire) involved and watching them deal with various elements of horror occurring was both scary without feeling cheap and sad because I really liked these people that were being put in harm’s way. West gets a lot of credit from me for managing to tease out a deliberately paced story, only to have been able to pay off the horror aspect strongly enough to make me think about it after the film had finished. It does not hurt that the conclusion of the film provides a level of intrigue, which makes one reconsider some of how they watched the film.
The Innkeepers is a fine example of old fashioned horror brought to a modern realm. While not terribly exciting throughout, I really liked these characters and was happy with how the payoff felt rewarding in a satisfyingly scary sense. While Ti West’s style may certainly be for a specific audience, I think it is a well-made film that manages to utilize its location effectively. The film has a sense of humor as well, which is nice, because even though the film does not provide cheap jump scares throughout, it works well enough at developing these characters, before getting to the horror aspect. I may have enjoyed West’s throwback film, House of the Devil, more, but I still appreciated what The Innkeepers had to offer quite a bit.
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
The Innkeepers arrives on Blu-ray with a good-looking 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. West shot ‘Innkeepers’ on film and so it certainly has a noticeable level of grain, which is expected, but fine. The film is still clean and clear enough to properly represent what West intended for the look of the film. There is a tendency to keep the film in areas that seem dimly lit, if not very dark, to maintain a certain type of atmosphere. As such, the film relies heavily on the how the black levels work in the transfer and I did not find myself having any real problem in that department. Various other details like textures, environment details, and skin tones all look good enough. The quality of the video is perfectly suitable for this film.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The audio track on this film is pretty fantastic. There is literally a recommendation to play this film loud, which is kind of awesome in itself. The Blu-ray is equipped with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which is a very good way deliver the goods when The Innkeepers gets to the moments that really count. As the film is such a slow burn, it is great to have a slowly building soundtrack in the background that steadily rises as the horror takes hold. It features a lot of dialogue throughout, but there are plenty of quiet moments that are benefited by how the soundtrack makes the little whispers and tiny sound effects subtle, yet clear. Of course, when the sound really does kick into gear, the score is strong and tense, perfectly suitable for the film and very well handled on this disc.
Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
It is a shame that there is not more here, as the two commentary tracks on this disc are pretty great. They are entertaining, fun, and provide a lot of information about the making of the film. The remaining features on the disc only include one featurette and a trailer. These are in HD, but add little substance.
- Commentary with Writer/Director/Editor Ti West, Producers Peter Phok & Larry Fessenden, and 2nd Unit Director/Sound Designer Graham Reznick
- Commentary with Writer/Director/Editor Ti West and Stars Sara Paxton & Pat Healy
- The Innkeepers: Behind the Scenes
Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Innkeepers is a horror film that I can understandably see only a certain set of people being able to get into. In today’s age of fast edits and cheap tricks, many just do not have the patience. I was happy to enjoy this film. I really like West’s style and will be curious to see if he sticks to his old school horror guns in future features. Regardless, the Blu-ray for this film is a good one. It suits the film’s style, with a superb audio track, strong video transfer, and two very good commentaries, despite lacking in having other interesting extra features. The Innkeepers is a good flick that I hope others discover and fortunately the Blu-ray does a good enough job at representing it.
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