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 the lovely Barbara, 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.