Many horror movies today seem to be marketed solely for financial return. But writer-director Ti West wants to turn the genre back into an art form for personal expression.
His new movie, “The Innkeepers,” is an extraordinary work of horror that defies viewers’ expectations and serves up plenty of tingles.
It tells the story of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, about to shut its doors for good. Two hotel workers, played by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, agree to spend their final shifts on the premises.
At the same time, they hope to catch a glimpse of the inn’s famous ghost, Madeline O’Malley.
West’s movies are generally about deflection and rhythms. Like a magician performing tricks, he prefers wide corridors and brightly lit spaces to shadows and darkness. He extends the time before the dramatic payoff, or shortens it, or changes the payoff entirely.
“I may be old-fashioned,” West, 31, said during a recent phone conversation. “A lot of people say I have this slow-burn taste, but I don’t notice it.
“I like obsessing over the most meticulous parts of the craft. For me, cinema is more than just entertainment. With all of my favorite filmmakers there’s a good cooperation between the visuals and the content.”
Born in Wilmington, Del., West grew up in video stores, often recording movies he wanted to see with his VCR. He tried to see everything; the horror section seemed especially alluring and forbidden.
When he attended the School of Visual Arts in New York, he met veteran actor and filmmaker Larry Fessenden (“Wendigo,” “The Last Winter”).
Fessenden, taken with West’s talent, offered to put up money for a low-budget film. That became 2005’s “The Roost,” about teens terrorized by crazed bats.
West’s breakthrough came with 2009’s “The House of the Devil,” a film that slowly builds toward its bloody climax, a devil-worshipping ritual. Yet the movie’s sleight-of-hand had some viewers complaining nothing happened.
“I can watch a movie about a girl walking around a house, and I’m watching a movie about a girl walking around a house,” West says. “Other people will watch it and think nothing’s happening. What people are complaining about doesn’t make sense to me. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
After a bad experience directing “Cabin Fever 2,” West says he intends to continue making movies his way.
“I would love to make big studio movies,” he says, “but I don’t want to make stupid movies.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis
Written and directed by Ti West
Running time 1 hour, 40 minutes