For a film involving themes of death and lack of hope Ti Wests’ The Innkeepers makes for one intense breathe of fresh air. In the genre wastelands where mediocre repetition abounds this restrained but confident film virtually towers over most recent horrors, not through FX or shock gimmickry but through smart characters, dialogue and atmosphere.
In the last few day of a historic small town hotel, the two bored remaining employees set to unravel the hotels allegedly haunted past. (I’ll refrain from revealing much else so as not to spoil). From what is a somewhat formulaic set up unfolds as a sincere and intimate piece rife with snappy comedy and some neat if mild creepy jolts. The Innkeepers bypasses falling into an increasingly common trap of writing smart-mouth hipsters that often invite contempt from audiences by being too consciously aware, thankfully here we have two realistically fed up people (sarcastic yes, but not exactly rolling with the in-crowd) who are genuinely empathetic and fast giving up (on interactions, ambition and their own interests). Pat Healy and Sara Paxton are solidly cast, bringing a very believable companionship born through the go-nowhere setting of a barely tolerable job, an element that even I wouldn’t have assumed would play so brilliantly as the backbone of a paranormal horror! The pair’s bored lack of direction is so relatable and well-played that when it becomes a sort of reflection or instigation for some of the eerie goings on that we are right there with the two during the creepier turns. Their determination to experience ‘something’, even if it is supernatural rather than a more rational life achievement, becomes quite understandable and underpins proceedings uniquely. With gently barbed banter that is played with conviction and feels very natural, it certainly helps that both our leads are capable of being funny and generally fit in with the whole premise seamlessly.
I really liked House of the Devil, Ti West’s prior stand out film which lends itself to his emerging and welcome personal style, I’m not entirely sure if you enjoy one you’ll guaranteed to enjoy both, but there is a similar stripped back patience that links the two films, both relying nicely on subtle detail, creeping tone and personality. Special films are still far and few between in horror so although not a flawless film it definitely is a special one, it also reminded me of how pleased I was watching Session 9 and Burning Bright, two films which never received cinema releases but are both special in their efforts to show something different through human reaction and imaginative dread, forgoing predictable tropes and triviality. I don’t like the obligatory disclaimers about a horror’s lack of gore or shock in a review, as if a film lives or dies by how much blood is shed, frankly (and speaking as lover of watching unholy amounts of the red stuff) who needs guts when you’ve got a sharp and relatable script performed by a strong cast with the support of a director who just seems to get it? A wonderfully balanced and entertaining film that knows its strength’s and pushes them forth with insight and humour.