THE INNKEEPERS is out today, apparently. Not that you’d know, as according to my hasty research it’s only playing in one cinema in London – once a night at the Empire Leicester Square – and a handful of others across the UK, with no showings at all in Bristol, Liverpool, Cardiff, Leeds, or Newcastle.
It’s a criminally small number of screens, and it’s becoming a depressingly familiar release strategy – have a arbitrary theatrical run, then concentrate on hasty DVD/Blu-ray release which comes straight after (THE INNKEEPERS is out on DVD on the 25th June). It’s particularly sad in the case of THE INNKEEPERS, as more than most films I’ve seen in recent memory it deserves to be seen with an appreciative audience.
And it’s already played to appreciative audiences in UK – it premiered at FrightFest last year to great acclaim, and the Cigarette Burns preview screening last month was also a huge success. Reviews have been, on the whole, excellent. So why have Metrodome not really pushed this in the way, say, INSIDIOUS was last year?
Enough babbling about distribution – the main reason you need to see THE INNKEEPERS in a cinema is because it’s genuinely scary in a way few modern horror films actually are, and films are always scarier watched in the dark with strangers.
Directed by the fiercely talented Ti West, THE INNKEEPERS is a classic haunted house story with a thick streak of psychological horror, carrying on in the rich tradition of the likes of THE INNOCENTS and THE SHINING. Two twenty-something wage-slaves, Claire (Sarah Paxton) Luke (Pat Healy), work in the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a soon-to-be demolished hotel rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Madeline O’Malleya young woman who hung herself in the basement.
Luke claims to have previously encountered her roaming around, and runs a website dedicated to the search for evidence for her; all while the dorky, awkward Claire stews, lamenting her the lack of excitement in her life and desperately poking around the creaky hotel during her nightshifts in search of O’Malley.
Sure enough things start getting progressively spookier, and if you’ve seen Ti West’s other movies you’ll recognize what’s come to be refered to as his ‘slow-burn’ style. I’ve heard and read a couple of critics complain that THE INNKEEPERS is lethargically slow, with “nothing happening’, but I genuinely don’t undertand what West is supposed to do: the fact is that ghosts, in and of themselves, really aren’t that scary-looking, so it’s not as if there’s much in the way of horrific imagery that West can fill the film with.
So he does what he does best, which is engender incredible amounts of tension and suspense before they arrive. There’s a scene when the pair head into the basement where O’Malley hung herself that is a masterclass in how to toy with audience expectations and wring every drop of terror out of a very basic, rote, ‘don’t go down the steps’ scenario.
He really is impressive, and his work here is just as good as it was in the brilliant HOUSE OF THE DEVIL – his use of framing, sound, camera movement and editing is masterfully controlled, and his skill in putting these sequences together is so obvious that this is work that actually deserves the of-bandied around description label of ‘Hitchcockian’.
Apparently this isn’t enough for some people not to deem these boring, but if refusing to fill the film with cheap loud soundtrack scares (with one deliberately amusing exception) is a bad thing then I’m clearly on the wrong side of the fence in this debate.
West can do humour almost as well – the opening half of the film is filled with so many funny moments that it’s tempting to call THE INNKEEPERS a horror-comedy. There’s a moment involving Claire, a binbag and a skip that is both really well-observed and one of the best pieces of physical comedy I’ve seen in a film in a long while.
It’s also so great to see a horror film with such great, well-rounded characters: the surprisingly complex central relationship dynamic between Luke and Sarah is wonderfully written and portrayed, with Sarah Paxton more genuinely adorkable than a dozen Deschanels and Pat Healy providing a deadpan snarkers for the ages. Kelly McGillis also provides great, ‘who-knew?’ support as a creepy mystic, and there’s some very nice use of practical make-up and effects.
It’s overall a very well-constructed film, with ideas and thematic ambitions that surpass 95% of modern horror movies – the oppressive, desperate nature of living a ‘pink-collar’ existence during a recession is nicely drawn without ever linking the film back to the current economic climate in away that feels forced or over-played.
I had a fantastic time with THE INNKEEPERS – along with THE CABIN IN THE WOODS it’s the best horror film I’ve seen this year, and I’d implore you to go out and see it on the big screen however you can.