The Innkeepers (2011)

Based on viewings of The House of the Devil and now The Innkeepers, I feel prepared to weigh in on writer/director Ti West.

He’s certainly a talented visual stylist; there is some awesome, unsettling snake-crawling camera work in The Innkeepers. He knows how to build tension; his films are painstakingly set up, as the female protagonists become ever-so-slowly enmeshed in a deadly web fueled by their own curiosity.

My beef with West is that in both cases, the payoff falls short. It’s as if he’s used up all his tricks in the first three-quarters of a slow-burning movie before deciding to end the thing with … I dunno, ghosts or some shit. It’s really frustrating.

Nutshell: Claire (the plucky Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are stuck with desk duty for the last weekend of business at The Yankee Pedlar, a century-old hotel somewhere on the east coast.

Luke has a paranormal website that tracks “supernatural” events from the hotel, as it’s rumored to be haunted by a jilted bride who hung herself several decades earlier.

For the final 48 hours, the bored employees double-down on their investigations in order to get hard evidence of an actual spook.

There is a definite post-modern vibe to The Innkeepers (sassy pants celeb Lena Dunham even has a cameo as an overly chatty barista), that’s somewhat distracting. Luke and Claire are funny and likable, but in a generic, woefully underdeveloped way, and they come across as “types” rather than characters.

Paxton gives it her all, but the film’s transition from meta, self-aware horror movie to genuine horror movie is clumsy. When the ghosts start to make their presence known, I honestly didn’t know whether to prepare myself for scares or to just keep the action at an analytical arm’s length, as I’d done up to now.

The first half of the movie is so … tame and lightly goofy, it could almost be a spooky after-school special or latter-day Disney film. And then there’s ghosts.

This probably isn’t my most articulate review, as I’m still debating the merits of the Ti West oeuvre. What I can say for sure is that there’s something crucial missing from his films, perhaps a willingness on West’s part to commit to either tongue-in-cheek hipster amiability or full-tilt frights.

He’s trying to have his cake and eat it too, and his work seems disjointed, neither fish nor fowl—and his finales are decidedly unsatisfying.

In the words of Mrs. Sharky, who watched this one with me, “That’s it? Hell, this movie could have been 20 minutes long and you wouldn’t have missed a thing.”

In other words, your patience is not rewarded.


Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 (2011)

Pardon me while I spill my gushing guts. I admired the heck out of the original Laid To Rest, but the sequel is everything the second installment of a film series should be: bigger, artistically bolder, and rife with disturbing implications. (See Evil Dead—Evil Dead II. )

Like the Raimi films, LTR2 is an evolutionary leap beyond its predecessor, as it takes virtually the same story and creates a whole universe for it to live in. And like Romero’s zombie epics, Chromeskull has the chutzpah to place a modern horror film into the larger and more provocative context of a thoroughly corrupt and predatory society—one that bares a striking resemblance to our own.

Even though writer-director Robert Hall’s sophomore effort isn’t quite in the same league as the aforementioned films and folks, it’s still a bloody good time.

The second film opens just moments after the conclusion of the first: The relentless killer known as Chromeskull (Nick Principe) is apparently kaput after having his noggin pulverized by a pair of plucky survivors, but modern science can do amazing things these days.

The mutilated maniac is heroically raced to a hospital and sewn back together by the finest surgeons money can buy and so embarks on a three-month convalescence. See, it turns out Chromeskull can afford top-drawer health care—he’s friggin’ rich, the CEO of his own shadow corporation.

Like any successful man, he’s got disgruntled employees and ambitious rivals, or in this case both, in the person of his right-hand flunky Preston, played with gonzo panache by 90210‘s Brian Austin Green!

While the boss gets his head back together, Preston entertains ideas of moving up in the company.

Naturally, another woman is methodically stalked and many people are gutted, carved, and filleted in excruciating detail. A big round of applause should be directed to the special makeup effects team of Cris Alex and Joe Badiali, who seem to be cut from the same gruesome cloth as the master himself, Tom Savini.

Laid To Rest 2 is a rockin’ righteous bloodbath. The kills are teeth-gritting in their unfettered savagery, as Chromeskull is clearly a man(?) who loves his work and has a near fetishistic reverence for his tools—which should serve as inspiration to his ungrateful underlings.

Seeing the boss working the line and getting his hands dirty is an increasingly rare thing in corporate America.

The Tall Man (2012)

Is The Tall Man HINO (Horror in Name Only)? Sure, it takes place in a brooding rural slum ala Winter’s Bone (except this one’s on the West Coast—Washington, to be exact), and it’s about a prolific bogeyman who abducts children in a dried-up mining town. But what ensues is a provocatively ambiguous thriller (and yes, it is thrilling) with a fairly blunt social agenda.

Cold Rock, Washington is a mildewing husk of a town decomposing in the overgrown backwoods of Washington. The local Chamber of Commerce undoubtedly has its hands full trying to lure tourists to such a cheerless gray community where 18 children have disappeared over the past few years.

A focused and fascinating Jessica Biel plays Julia, a recently widowed nurse living in the area who tends to the medical needs of the hapless hillbillies in her sector. Shit gets personal when her beloved toddler gets snatched from her house by the legendary “Tall Man.” Julia channels her inner Ellen Ripley and sets out to get her bambino back.

The tag line should have been: “Who’s The Monster Here?” The Tall Man is a brisk, well-crafted, and shifty film that never allows you to get comfortable from any perspective.

And while the supernatural elements are mostly of the red-herring variety, there is a very real horror at its heart—namely are we becoming a society that might require fantastically drastic social engineering in order to survive?

Echoes of P.D. James’ Children of Men and Dennis Lehane’s Gone Daddy Gone bubble to the surface. You have been warned.