A haunted hotel on the verge of closure, choking its dusty last over one final weekend as the ghosts of residents past mournfully stalk the corridors and hallways... Welcome to the unlikeliest romcom of 2012!
OK, Ti West’s latest chiller, following his excellent satanic-panic period piece The House Of The Devil, isn’t a cheesy chick flick, but behind the nerve-shredding (and it is terrifying) The Innkeepers is an indie slacker-com at heart. Think Clerks meets The Shining.
Set and shot in The Yankee Pedlar inn – a real hotel in Connecticut locals believe is actually haunted – it follows Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), 20-something, college-drop-out would-be paranormal investigators charged with manning the front desk and taking care of the remaining guests before the hotel shuts down for good.
First and foremost a character piece, it hangs out with Luke and Claire as they kill time chatting, drinking and laughing at the annoying local barista (an excellent cameo from next-big-thing Lena Dunham). They also dick around with EVP equipment, pretending to be ghost hunters and freaking themselves out with tales of spook-in- residence Madeleine Mallory, ‘The widow of the Pedlar’, said to roam the halls.
Miles from her Last House On The Left/Shark Night scream-queen persona, Paxton is goofy and pixieish, while Healy’s a loveable nerd. It’s largely a two-hander with interludes from the eclectic guests – most notably an unselfconscious turn from Top Gun icon Kelly McGillis as washed-up actress turned spiritualist Leanne Rease-Jones. If there’s an over-reliance on false scares in the first half, it’s rectified by the final act, as playful ghost games turn menacing.
The location is a gift, a kitsch mix of chintz and glitz which suits West’s storytelling perfectly. Set in the modern day, steeped in Victoriana, with an unhurried, finely crafted early-’80s feel, The Innkeepers is both old and new, fresh and gorgeously nostalgic.
Just like in The House Of The Devil, The Innkeepers takes its time to build, cranking up the tension as your sympathy for Claire and Luke deepens. But unlike House, The Innkeepers’ pay-off completely delivers. Wincingly frightening, sad and satisfying, at its heartbreaking conclusion The Innkeepers treads a carefully ambiguous path which resonates long after the creepy final coda. It’s one of the scariest, and best, horror films of recent years.
The best hotel horror since The Shining is a character piece, a comedy, a love story and a wee- inducer that marks Ti West as one of the most capable genre-wrights around.