SXSW FILM FESTIVAL
SXSW Review: 'The Innkeepers' Swerves To Highly Effective Results
by Jeremy Kirk
March 14, 2011
Ti West likes to knock the pot roast off the table. He slowly simmers, begins turning up the temperature on the pot, and then flips the entire table on its side spilling everything on the floor. That's not a figurative way of saying The Innkeepers derails. Far from it. It's a highly effective ghost story that may not be quite what you expect going in. Hell, it's not quite what you expect after the halfway point. But the confidence that West exudes and the total package he presents with the film may be the jarring jolt the horror industry has been looking for. Many of us have known this about West. It's time the rest of the horror world to take notice.
The titular innkeepers are Claire and Luke, played by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, two employees of the Yankee Pedler Hotel. The hotel, supposedly haunted, is seeing its last weekend of business before closing its doors for good. With only a couple of guests to serve, the two spend their days and nights searching for proof the hotel is haunted, making EVP recordings and generally trying to creep each other out. Of course, things don't quite turn out the way they are expected to in the last weekend of the Yankee Pedler.
That's something Ti West is quickly becoming an artist at, shattering expectation, taking his audience in one direction then quickly pulling their reins to the left. Just as in The House of the Devil, he has the path laid out before you, there's no way to take any other way, you just can't see the end from here.
Of course, there's a very specific difference between The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. It plays like a comedy, almost a romantic comedy depending on your interpretation of the bond between Claire and Luke. With nothing but each other and the Internet to entertain themselves, the two bounce back and forth between each other, playing tricks on each other and playing games like trying to ring the desk bell on the other. It's cute, and the honesty Paxton and Healy bring to the characters is necessary.
Paxton in particular brings an endearing quality to Claire. Even in smaller, trivial moments like rubbing her eyes, she's almost like a kitten you just want to pat on the head and tell her everything is going to be okay. Healy's Luke not so much. He's funny. That's precisely what he brings to The Innkeepers, but it's never a case of actually wanting to see he and Claire get together in any capacity more than friends and coworkers. It might have something to do with the ample amounts of porn in his Internet history.
There are sections in the first half of The Innkeepers where you aren't quite sure it knows what it wants to be. Is it a ghost movie? A romantic comedy? Horror? Shaun of the Dead-style fan art? To be truthful, it ends up being all of these at once. Not all of is works. The comedy hits, but never very hard with only slight chuckles being pulled from the audience. As you're watching it, you begin to question West and the choices he's making here.
It's not until the last 30 minutes, when you slowly begin seeing West step up to the table to knock it over, that you begin to realize The Innkeepers is a movie that has to be watched more than once. That, too, is like The House of the Devil in that you need perspective. You need to have seen where the storyteller has already taken you once before in order to realize just how maneuvering the first part of his story is. The comedy and connection may not be there in the first half of The Innkeepers, but the structure certainly is. Once that terrifying finale hits, once West has successfully knocked the pot off the table and spilled its contents on the floor, you finally realize it didn't even matter what he was cooking. This was his intention all along.
Jeremy's SXSW Rating: 8 out of 10