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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 09.02.11] movie review horror

Year: 2011
Directors: Ti West
Writers: Ti West
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 10 out of 10

[Editor's note: We defintiely don't see a lot of 10 out of 10s here on QE, so this obviously one to watch for, gang]

One of the problems with being a horror fan is the ever diminishing return of actual scares. You inevitably get a bit jaded. It’s what’s led to the genre ghetto of cheap gore films, the horror equivalent of porn, where fans get their kicks in the absence of anything actually scary. I thought this was the inevitable result of the horror diet, that there comes a point where you’ve seen everything, and there isn’t a celluloid trick left that will make your heart leap into your mouth. That that delicious shiver up the spine had gone forever.

There are still films that are capable of disturbing me - the sheer nastiness of Wolf Creek left me quite shaken, and the bad trip of Christopher Smith’s Triangle felt like a glimpse into schizophrenia - but the unique, creepy fear I felt in childhood after watching the likes of Trilogy of Terror and Hammer House of Horror seemed to have gone for good. I thought that maybe I was just too old to be scared by the supernatural any more. What I’d forgotten is that there are a handful of films, The Shining being a prime example, that are so well made they scare anyone and everyone, even on repeat viewings. The Innkeepers, with it’s sympathetic characters and expert direction, is one of those rare films.

At first it doesn’t seem that this will be the case at all. Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are two twenty-somethings employed at the Yankee Peddler, a typical American small-town hotel, on its last weekend before it closes for good. As director Ti West explained in a Q&A after the screening, the hotel is a real life place, and it shows - the nondescript nineteenth century building’s 1970s decor and air of well-maintained shabbiness is too realistic to be an invention.

Claire and Luke are likable characters, slackers with a lot of intelligence and very little motivation, the only two staff at work as the hotel slowly shuts down. They aren’t very interested in their jobs and spend their time messing around, being rude to guests and, at the behest of Luke, recording the hotel’s paranormal activity to put on a website he’s making. There isn’t that much of it really - doors slowly swing shut and the occasional creepy noise is heard. The tone of the film is more slacker comedy than supernatural horror for a good part of its running time.

Anyone familiar with Ti West’s previous film The House of the Devil will recognise the slow, inexorable build of tension that follows. Unexplained events, sinister guests and snippets of information conspire to shift the tone to one of almost unbearable creepiness, helped in no small part by an excellent orchestral score built on a foundation of rumbling, synthetic bass. The spine-tingling, eye-covering scares that follow are expertly put together, timing, sound and Sara Paxton’s wide-eyed performance meshing perfectly. It’s a disappointing reminder that a dearth of quality is behind the lack of recent frightening films, not the jaded palette of the horror fan, especially as The Innkeepers is at heart a fairly conventional haunted house story.

Sara Paxton deserves credit for something else often missing from modern horror films: the sympathetic lead. Her vulnerable, physical, slightly over the top performance is original and believable, cynical Luke in the supporting role nicely complimenting her enthusiasm. This depth makes their torment all the more harrowing, a pretty obvious point lost on a lot of present day film makers.

This isn’t a big budget movie, and it didn’t take long to make. It was shot on location in a real-life hotel, using relatively unknown B-movie actors and sparse special effects. Nevertheless, it’s the most effective horror film I’ve seen in years, made with skill, care and attention to detail. A ten out of ten score isn’t given out lightly, and this is far from a perfect film, but there were moments during The Innkeepers when I again felt the forgotten shivers that got me into horror films in the first place. That deserves a lot of credit.

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projectcyclops (10 years ago) Reply

Sounds terrific! Thanks for the review.


J.J. (10 years ago) Reply

WOW Does it have distribution? When is out in the US or UK?


EV (10 years ago) Reply

I saw this at the FrightFest and would completely disagree with this. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Ti West, and absolutely loved House of the Devil, but this is more of the same, given a mainstream, slacker makeover. West is a good film maker, but this strips tension for comedy, and worse - follows the predicatble route when the reveals happen which seems standard for hollywood ghost stories these days. Many will like this, and as I say it's Wests most mainstream film yet, but it's a kids film next to THOTD, and lacks the edginess of that film. I was very disappointed to see West present such a commercial, predictable and dare I say 'safe' film, as it was one of my most anticipated to see at the festival.


Ben Austwick (10 years ago) Reply

Thanks for your comments everyone.

I saw on Twitter that there were a few people at Frightfest who didn't like this, and I think it's probably down to what scares you. EV, are you someone who doesn't get scared by the supernatural? I've got a few friends like that, and if that's the case this film isn't going to work.

It is traditionally done, but the timing is askew, and there are a couple of things towards the end that are unexpected. I think that really makes it work.

I loved the build up in House of the Devil and am looking forward to watching it a third time after writing this review, but I thought the excellent build up had a bit of a lame pay off at the end. I was disappointed.


EV (10 years ago) Reply

Not at all, Ben, I very much get spooked by the supernatural, hence my love for The House of The Devil. Slow burn horror films are more my type of thing. House of the Devil I found fresh, exciting and the deliberate pacing effective - I even liked the pay off. The pacing in this is indeed the same, but without the rewards - I know it's a slacker comedy horror, but while I didn't mind the two leads, we are forced to spend a lot of time in their company doing nothing, and then when the spookier moments present themselves, they putter out and follow predictable paths already worm out through a number of mainstream horror films. The pacing worked better in THOTD as it was ominous throughout, whereas in this it's tiresome, and it simply isn't spooky enough to work as a horror, nor funny enough to work as a comedy.

All my opinion of course. But considering THOTD was probably my favourite horror of the year, it was a shame to see such a rehashed and stale film as this, despite its technical polish. I'm certainly excited to see what West does with his next film - a sci-fi I believe - and hope it all goes to plan.


sonaboy (10 years ago) Reply

I like Ti West. But I'm getting sick of reading about this movie and still not being able to see an official trailer. Get on it, QE! :)

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