Crash Analysis: THE INNKEEPERS (2011)

Ghost story versus character study

A supposedly haunted inn gets ready to close forever

Poor Claire (Sara Paxton). She’s a bit lost like most of us and probably ponders what’s next in her life after the old Yankee Pedlar Inn closes its doors for good. Her “I’m so done with this” partner at the front desk is Luke (Pat Healy), a man devoid of ambition because, well, what’s the point? Yet what a pair of coworkers as they discuss whether Madeline O’Malley (Brenda Cooney) still walks the corridors.

Concerning ghost hunting, this movie gets it right, in a way. Since the property is being closed up, cleaning out the rooms may have disturbed the spirit of O’Malley, who had been murdered a century beforehand. And as amateur sleuth Claire gets to work, with camera and a recorder for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon, where a ghost’s “voice” is recorded, though the human in the room may not have heard the utterings at the time of recording), we follow her along hoping to hear a hint of a wayward noise or a glimpse of vapor.

As Claire sets out to find evidence, Leane Reese-Jones (Kelly McGillis) and her sixth sense checks in. She tells Claire to leave things be. Fearing the worst, Claire does and the movie’s over in twelve minutes.

WAIT!

Of course Claire doesn’t listen. After all, she did hear something… Plus, she doesn’t have anything else to do. Therefore, our intrepid main character marches on towards probable mayhem.

THE INNKEEPERS had a hell of a lot going for it: acting, directing, lighting, and suspense. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy were absolutely amazing in their understated roles, and their body language alone spoke volumes. Ti West, screenwriter and director, captured the perfect atmosphere from his canvas chair. But Eliot Rockett rocked it.

Besides great lighting, Rockett knew how to work the camera and where to place it – when to stay in too close and when to pull back too far. In fact, his treatment reminded me of William A. Fraker’s exceptional work in ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968). Yes, it was that damn good. In one scene, Claire and Luke find themselves huddled in the basement. It’s black as dark matter and all they have is one working flashlight between them. Luke’s crouched down with his back to the wall and he’s scared as hell as he faces crouched down Claire. They’re both so shellshocked they can’t look away from each other – something might be in the blackness. So, they stare at each other and tremble. Instead of doing a two-shot, Rockett kept the camera up close to Luke for most of the scene. After all, if he’s too freaked to look around the basement, then we’re not allowed to look either. Rockett keeps us in the scene, in the fear, and the tension mounts. I found myself trying to peek around Luke as I tried to peek around the door to see Minnie Castevet in Polanski’s triumph.

Rockett, known to horror buffs for his work on HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) and CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING CLEANING (2009), will surely see the continued growth of a future grandmaster of cinematography.

We have the creep factor for certain, but we have a tale that is subtle, which is perfectly fine, but one sadly wonders of its substance. O’Malley’s story simply wasn’t fleshed out enough, and after decades and decades, more of the tale would have surfaced, though truth versus myth would clearly be a factor, because the legend would have grown. Worst of all, however, was the end scene with a police officer that did something no cop would ever do. In fact, the movie has such a tedious, overly contrived pace at times, that when the end comes, you may think THE INNKEEPERS is just getting started. Yet, the story is not about O’Malley or the haunted inn, but Claire trying to find herself in a palace of empty rooms in a little town. And since she’s not willing to explore herself and what she might become, she searches out O’Malley’s ghost. And that’s Claire’s grand folly: She searched for O’Malley when she should have been looking for herself.

The scene with the officer still pisses me off, but what can one do when Ti West is wearing the tri-cornered hat of a revolutionary: director, writer and producer. It’s hard to tackle a man wielding that much power and bringing his vision to light. Too bad cast and crew didn’t give him an alternative to keep the outside world at bay in the end.

Regardless, THE INNKEEPERS has a lot of beauty and atmosphere to capture the attention of many, thanks to Paxton and company – including Kelly McGillis whose career resurged after 2010’s breath of fresh air vampire fest, STAKE LAND.

If you love ghost stories, definitely check out THE INNKEEPERS.

Other ghostly greats: THE HAUNTING (UK/USA, 1963), THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (UK, 1973), THE CHANGELING (Canada, 1980), THE SHINING (UK/USA, 1980), THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), THE RING (USA/Japan, 2002), SHUTTER (Thailand, 2004), THE ORPHANAGE (Spain, 2007), PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007) and THE SKEPTIC (2009).

3.5 out of 5 stars

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