I may have gone into this one the wrong way, having been in the mood for a genuinely scary film. From the synopsis, “The Innkeepers” seemed like a promising little ghost story. A ghost story set in an aging hotel, what could go wrong? Well, Ti West had other plans. The story opens simply enough, with two bored young hotel employees doing just enough work to keep a few guests in the place on its final open weekend. They also happen to be amateur ghost hunters, attempting to capture evidence of the infamous Madeline O’Malley before they finally close shop. Unfortunately, the ghost story itself fails to grab interest, which ultimately derails the whole cinema experience. While the cinematography was engaging and the acting wasn’t bad, the lackluster story ends up spelling doom for the whole production.
What we should have been dealing with here is a tried and true formula for creepy, atmospheric horror movies: the haunted house. Take one creepy old house, add a compelling story of tragedy or loss, mix in a few unsuspecting but generally likeable characters, and, voila, instant horror. Of course, following formulas is bad practice for young writer/directors, so West goes the “new and different” route and plays the story out at a derelict hotel with wannabe ghost hunters as the main players. Admittedly, the main characters can be considered “likeable” if you are into the whole emo/hipster culture, but I wasn’t really a fan. Ingredient two, a compelling story of tragedy, is where West really faulted in my opinion. A girl kills herself at the hotel; boo hoo. Another knock is in the delivery of the ghosts story, which should be central (Note: It isn’t. The more central element is the dumb psuedo-love story between the two protagonists). We get hints at the fact there is a ghost early on, and then midway through the entire story is told by the female lead to a little kid. And that’s it. No extension later on, no new revelation or conclusion by the end of the film. Just that little retelling in the middle. The story doesn’t really correlate to the hauntings that happen later, and the magic just sort of fizzles.
The acting in the film was fairly good for what it was. From the few Ti West films I have seen, he does have a knack for casting the right people. While neither of the protagonists were particularly relatable to me, they were well drawn and had a few dimensions that made them interesting. The actors played these parts well, moving seamlessly from hipster to ambitious young adult to serious adult in grave danger. The other players were good as well, with particular nods going to Kelly McGillis for bringing a particularly odd part to life and to George Riddle for being so damn believable. The only actor that I felt could not hold her own was Lena Dunham who played the coffee store girl. Her whole scene seemed unnecessary, and I assume she was cast simply because someone wanted her on set.
What I think Ti West has proved in the past, especially in “House of the Devil”, is that he can cause an emotional response through a series of camera angles. As with “Devil”, “Innkeepers” has very little score, and is mostly tracked by ambient sounds. This does well to create a nostalgic atmosphere, necessary in both movies. “Innkeepers” also features more than a few quality shots which help to build tension. Where I saw an issue cinematically was in the climax of these tense scenes. Generally directors like to give brief glimpses of horror once they have their audience on the edge of their seats, and let their minds fill in the rest. Holding on these horrific images is a modern and very interesting way to film a movie, but only if your special effects are up to the task. “The Innkeepers” seems to think very highly of its cinematic style and not give enough thought to its special effects, which are weak. Had the ghost been scary enough to give you nightmares just by looking at it, by all means make the viewer look at that thing for a few seconds. Otherwise, as should have been done here, let the viewers mind fill in what their eyes missed. Even a non horror fan can come up with some creepy stuff if pointed in the right direction.
Overall, “The Innkeepers” fell short on too many levels to be considered a good movie. It would be a good first movie for a young director, but West has been around a little too long to be getting mulligans. While the concept, acting and directing are good, you just can’t make a successful movie without a good story. The movie probably went over well with the under 18 crowd and with people that don’t normally watch genre movies, but I doubt the hardcore horror fanatic was really impressed. Overall I won’t say I was disappointed, but I most likely won’t pick this one up again.
Afterward: I noticed on IMDB that composer Jeff Grace won the award for Best Musical Score for “The Innkeepers”. You can take my earlier comments any way you like, but as they say, the best score is the one you don’t notice.