A traditional ghost story set very much in the here and now, The Innkeepers proves that the Spanish and the Japanese don’t have a monopoly on the sub-genre while confirming writer/director Ti West as one of the major talents in horror today.
Opening with a series of still photographs displaying the facelifts of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, Connecticut (a real place, in case you fancy scaring yourself half to death…), over the last 100 years, it’s then established that the rambling old building is in its final days of business.
The remaining employees are beautifully observed slackers Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), while only the second floor is open to guests – a mother with her young son and a washed-up actress turned psychic (played with dignity and a pleasing lack of vanity by Kelly McGillis).
The inevitable backstory emerges: a woman called Madeline O’Malley is said to have hung herself in the inn after being jilted on her wedding day; she roams the corridors looking for her old lover… or perhaps a new one.
Claire and Luke fill their long, lonely shifts looking at hauntings online and playing amateur ghostbusters, creeping through the inn armed with recording equipment and a nervous sense of humour as the piano-and-icicles score melts into the ominous sound design: bass rumbles and needle-thin whines.
Then a final guest comes to stay. An old man, alone, he talks slowly and politely but screams WRONG as he insists on returning to the room he once occupied on the third floor. His arrival, if it wasn’t creepy enough, is preceded by a title reading Chapter Three: A Final Guest. (The first two chapters are A Long Weekend and Madeline O’Malley.)
Naturally he brings the fear.
Or rather Ti West does. Having spent 80 minutes establishing Claire and Luke’s offbeat, humorous characters and their affectionate friendship – these are people you believe in wholesale and want to hang with – he then, as he must, abuses our feelings by putting them through the wringer.
As always, the more you care, the more you scare.
Unlike the climax of West’s delicious The House Of The Devil, for which this is a companion piece, The Innkeepers’ final act is not a case of all hell breaking loose but rather a tightening of all that has gone before.
The camera still glides, glacially, and the lurking terror finally emerges front and centre to strangle viewers with an unhurried, implacable grip.
It is rare to see a director working with such assurance and evidencing such patience and belief (in self and audiences) from every frame. If it wasn’t for its right-here, right-now characters and the modern technology they handle, The Innkeepers could have been made at any point in the last 50 years.
Like a ghost from the past stepping into our frenetic age, West's film stands before us inviting comparisons to cinema’s most potent ghost stories and refusing to disappear in their long shadows.
This one is a keeper: classic, in every sense.
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