A subtle, well-paced, well-acted tale, The Innkeepers is one of those films that far exceeded my expectations. Here is a film that delves beyond the ghost story, taking the viewer into something that isn’t really just a horror movie in its most rudimentary sense. Despite reviews to the contrary, it seems to me that Ti West’s picture is really about the presumption of horror and the suggestion of the supernatural.
It is easy to discard this sort of thing. A similar thing happened with Elias’ Gut, another film that found many observers missing the mark. The obvious terror, the really scary stuff, comes from within. It comes from those places that we keep under lock and key, the stuff that only our thoughts are made of. The Innkeepers plays with similar elements, delivering a tale that internalizes rather than externalizes.
Sara Paxton stars as Claire, a going-nowhere desk clerk and employee at the seemingly ancient Yankee Pedlar Inn. The place is about to close and, with minimal guests, she is living out her last days as an employed person with her co-worker Luke (Pat Healy). Claire is a college drop-out; she is what ambitious folks would call “directionless.” Luke, meanwhile, has been trying to drum up interest on the hotel’s supposedly haunted legacy by starting a website.
As the last weekend at the Pedlar rolls to close, a few guests straggle in. One is Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), an actress in town for a convention. Claire takes a shine to her because she’s a big fan. Luke and Claire spend most of their nighttime activity tossing around the idea that the Inn might actually be haunted, which has led the pair to become amateur ghost hunters This is hammered home when Luke quotes a common line from the television series Ghost Hunters verbatim.
But The Innkeepers isn’t so much about ghosts or hunting them as it is about passing time. They are keeping an Inn, after all, and that’s a damn tedious job when there’s nobody around. Claire and Luke do what we mostly would do: they try to make work exciting. Luke may have tried to use the supernatural to drum up business for the dilapidated place, after all.
The owner, we’re told, is in the Bahamas. He won’t be back until his place is closed. Luke and Claire are in charge and the guests, including an old man (George Riddle) who checks in for nostalgia’s sake, are kind of scattered and frustrated by their lack of care. Who can blame them for not giving a shit, though? It’s not like they can get fired, so why not wile away the nights drinking cheap beer and chasing ghosts?
It’s a mistake to characterize this film as a ghost movie. This is not Paranormal Activity 5, despite what the trailers might suggest. This is, instead, a terrifically funny and endlessly entertaining film about the power of suggestion and belief. It’s about believing in something badly, about wanting something to be true. It’s about wanting to pass the time, most of all, and about the perils of doing just that.
Is this a horror movie? I guess. Does it matter? Not at all. Those looking for easy, digestible scares will be sorely disappointed, though, and I take a great deal of pleasure in that. Here is a film that doesn’t hand feed its audience; it takes its role a motion picture seriously enough to provide characters of depth and some truly invigorating dialogue. It suggests more than it shows, illustrating a world in which the power of the bored and somewhat drunken mind can produce some powerful stuff.
West has done a wonderful job with The Innkeepers, formulating a film about those who stay up late and mind the store while the rest of us do whatever it is we do in the meantime. It’s not about what goes bump in the night so much as it’s about what goes bump in our brains. And yes, that is Lena Dunham as a talkative barista. Gee, I wonder why…