LAFF '11: The Innkeepers Review
While it’s important to watch films that make you think and analyze the human condition, it’s also vital to remember that movies are entertainment. Provided they aren’t actively lowering your IQ every minute you watch, there’s nothing wrong with watching a movie to simply enjoy the story, the characters and the ride. In this capacity, Ti West’s newest film The Innkeepers is truly wonderful. Featuring great fun, scares and characters, it’s a film that has the wonderful ability to both make you laugh and scream without ever becoming a parody of itself.
Set in a small town in Connecticut, the plot centers on Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), two employees of the Yankee Pedlar, an inn that is about to go out of business. Their boss on vacation and only a couple guests upstairs, the duo spends most of their time searching for the spirit that haunts the building. What they end up discovering, however, could end up destroying their lives.
The Innkeepers is as much a comedy as it is a scarefest, and one of the main reasons why it works is because the two are so effortlessly blended together. Luke and Claire are both engaging, entertaining characters that keep the tone light and amusing for a good portion of the film, but when things need to get dark and scary, West eases the audience into it and as the laughs diminish things get even spookier. More impressive, despite using a sub-genre that has recently become popularized again due to the Paranormal Activity series, the movie never folds in on itself to become a spoof. There’s plenty of “rule breaking” (ex. girl walks into a dark basement all by herself) but it never gets to the point where it feels as though West is winking at the audience, which would completely break the tension.
The best part of the film, however, is Paxton and her character, with whom the audience spends most of the film’s runtime. Endlessly likable and fun to watch, Claire is a terrific character and Paxton truly finds every moment, whether she’s being scared half to death or just goofing around with her co-worker. Rather than simply being the innocent that sprints down long hallways and screams at scary stuff that jumps out from around the corner, Paxton plays Claire as an extension of the audience, not necessarily scared about what’s around the corner, but, instead, fascinated by it. Engaging, entertaining, and quite the talented screamer, Paxton is one of those rare horror actresses that you actually hope doesn’t get killed.
Certainly worth noting also is the sound design and score, both of which are entirely responsible for the film’s creepy atmosphere. The inn itself – which, in real life, is a functioning business – doesn’t look particularly haunted or scary in any way, so West relies entirely on the awful, frightening sounds. Using that dimension to full effect, Claire and Luke don’t use video while conducting their paranormal investigation, but rather audio, carrying around a recorder and shotgun microphone. As the audience joins the characters as they listen through their headphones, the film provides a wonderful twist on the first person perspective. Meanwhile, the score by Jeff Grace is loaded with strings and reminds the crowd of another certain horror film that largely takes place in a lodging facility.
Though it drags in some places and there are a few too many dutch angles and dramatic zooms, The Innkeepers is pure entertainment. Even those that pride themselves on never getting scared at the movies will find themselves effectively chilled while leaving the theater. Fortunately there are more than enough laughs to hold off the nightmares.
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