I’ll admit it: The Innkeepers got to me, but not for being an outrageous scarefest.  Instead, it got me by doing what world-class poker players do best: showing glimpses of promise here and there until they finally break you with an all-out assault.  And by then, it’s too late to do anything but watch the madness unfold.

To be honest, the film doesn’t grab you instantly, like so many of today’s horror films.  It starts off as a glimpse into the lives of two front desk jockeys at Connecticut’s Yankee Pedlar Inn, so bored with their dying jobs (it’s the hotel’s last weekend of business before it shuts its doors) that they’ve started investigating the supposed ghost that roams their halls.  Luke (Pat Healy) is the disaffected geek who’s made a website of the supposed happenings in the hotel, while Claire (Sara Paxton) is the prototypical 2000s twentysomething, a victim of modern-day television who gets easily bored by the mundane.  She always wants something bigger to happen, but doesn’t seem to want to do what it takes to get there.  But when the “œsomething bigger” starts happening, that’s when The Innkeepers turns completely left into a corridor of suspense and fright.

In a world where the Saw and Paranormal Activity movies rake money in hand-over-fist by either turning the gore quotient up to 11 or making families crumble under the terror of invisible beings, The Innkeepers takes a more languid approach, not relying on extreme carnage, computer effects, overly foul language, or tricky editing to hook you.  It doesn’t follow standard horror movie beats by having predictable jump scares where you think they should be.   Instead, director Ti West allows his film to let everything fall in an organic fashion, never forcing a scare on us.  And when the scares do come, they’re straight-out frightening; for example, how would you like to be woken up by that ghastly visage on the film’s posters?  The movie goes from laughable (due to a somewhat annoying performance by Sara Paxton) to full-bore terror, thanks to shades of The Shining, Mulholland Drive, The Blair Witch Project, Lucio Fulci’s films The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery, Stir of Echoes, and even a little bit of Event Horizon to boot.  West has (intentionally or otherwise) taken elements of these films and made an entertaining potboiler of a spook story for the modern era.

One of the reasons I found Paxton’s performance annoying is that she’s like the little kid sister who always wants to go and do things, even though they may not be the best for her.  She throws tantrums and is uncomprehendingly childish at times; she also flouts common sense or advice that others have given her, often leading to dire consequences.  Maybe it was the way she was written or directed to be, but it becomes grating, especially when she’s been told specifically NOT to do something and does it anyway.  Healy is solid as the nerdy friend who doesn’t quite know what to make of this whole situation, and a surprise turn by Kelly McGillis (yes, she of Top Gun fame) as a spiritual healer makes this movie just a little more creepy.

The independent horror film has run a wide quality gamut, from social commentary (George Romero’s Dead films) to slashers (John Carpenter’s Halloween) to the found footage boom (the aforementioned Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity), and finally to this modern take on the old-fashioned haunted house.  The Innkeepers may not be the most original of stories, but the talent on both sides of the camera have made a fairly decent, slow-rolling tale of the things that go bump in the night, which deserves to be seen in more theaters than those in its limited release this weekend.  At one point, you will be laughing and breathing easy; however, there will come a point where the laughs and smiles will give way to genuine fright, and that’s where the greatness of The Innkeepers is found.

FINAL GRADE:  B+

Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa

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