I’ve been meaning to make this particular review for a while now. I first saw Ti West’s The Innkeepers at the Toronto After-Dark last summer as the last film of the entire festival. It was also the best film to end it off.
I actually didn’t know what to expect from this film and I only got it because it was the last feature. The title of the thing itself along with the little bit of information provided didn’t really say anything. I will say that I knew it was a ghost story or a “ghost film”: about two employees at a hotel wanting to find evidence of a haunting before it closes.
It didn’t start the way that I thought it would. In fact, the film started off with Claire and Luke–the two employees–ribbing and scaring each other. Claire herself–the protagonist of the film–was energetic, positive and very likable. Luke himself had more of a weary, somewhat laconic personality but you could tell he loved what he did: which was managing his paranormal site online. In their spare time they were both ghost hunting enthusiasts. There is something really effective in a horror movie about making protagonists that are so relatable and likable people.
I like the fact that you look at both characters and how they are dealing with their lives. For me, I really felt invested in them and their relationship with each other and they were the kind of people I would like to be friends with. I especially liked Claire and every moment in which she would ring the bell on the front desk just to annoy Luke and just do … do it. Those little touches gave a lot of nuance to the film right there. They almost make you forget that this is a horror film. Almost.
The tone changes from light-hearted interactions and antics to something very creepy and disturbing and then … sad: ultimately so very sad. You see these very human characters pursue something in a very playful way and watch as this something seemingly becomes very serious, very dangerous and very real fast. And I am not just talking about the ghost-hunting either: but rather a divergence between these two characters that costs them. I find at the end that I really wish that didn’t happen to them. That was one of the strengths of Chernobyl Diaries–to have sympathetic characters–except unlike the stupidity in them, these two were really intelligent, if only somewhat more tragically curious and naive.
What the film lacks in blood and gore, it possesses in slow-mounting psychological terror and unexplained creepiness. The Innkeepers reminds me of the ambiance in Are You Afraid of the Dark? with finer tuning, three-dimensional characters and a plausible background made all the more terrifying by hints and moments of building paranormal activity: things made all the more disturbing in that you don’t know whether they exist outside the characters or in their minds. Either way, this film is both scary and tragic.
The Innkeepers gets a five out of five for an excellent story, pacing and brilliant character depictions and interactions. I could not recommend this film more highly than this.