Subtle 'Innkeepers' is a fresh take on horror, suspense 

click to enlarge Gloom service: Sara Paxton is terrific as a desk clerk working her final shift at a haunted hotel in “The Innkeepers.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Gloom service: Sara Paxton is terrific as a desk clerk working her final shift at a haunted hotel in “The Innkeepers.”

For those who clued into its sleight-of-hand tempo, Ti West’s “The House of the Devil” (2009) was one of the finest horror films of the decade. Now, West has done himself one better with “The Innkeepers.”

The movie takes place on the final weekend of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a forgotten old place said to be haunted by the ghost of Madeline O’Malley.

Its desk clerks — balding, cynical, 40ish Luke (Pat Healy) and cute, spunky 20-something Claire (Sara Paxton) — agree to sleep on the premises, taking turns working their final shifts.

The two share a playful, platonic relationship. Luke is a ghost enthusiast and Claire is eager to join him on his latest spiritual encounter.

Meanwhile, there are a few guests to deal with, including a cranky mom and her small boy, a mysterious old man, and a burned-out actress-turned-medium, Leanne (Kelly McGillis, of “Witness” and “Top Gun” fame).

As in “House of the Devil,” many scenes in “The Innkeepers” appear to go nowhere, neither scary nor advancing the plot.

It may be a turnoff for some, but for others interested in the intricate art of building sly suspense, sustaining moods and deepening characters, “The Innkeepers” is the horror equivalent of “The Tree of Life.”

Working like a magician, West does not forget the spooky and bloody bits; they’re simply not where audiences expect them.

For example, early in the film, Luke shows Claire a “ghost” video he’s discovered on the Web. What happens in the video — and what doesn’t happen — practically sums up West’s entire modus operandi.

But that wouldn’t matter if Luke and Claire weren’t such terrific characters.

In particular, Paxton — who has starred in bland chillers such as 2009’s “The Last House on the Left” and 2011’s “Shark Night” — gives a delightfully goofy performance.

The moment when she takes out a drippy hotel trash bag could make her a star.

“The Innkeepers” comes from all angles. It’s sometimes sweet and funny, often very spooky, and has the brightly lit, wide-angled aura of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”

Similar to Quentin Tarantino films or Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive,” it could be described as a mashup. In any event, with “The Innkeepers,” West has reinvented, and reinvigorated, a genre.

Movie review

The Inkeepers ★★★½

Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis
Written and directed by Ti West  
Rated R  
Running time 1 hour 40 minutes

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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