Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
The Innkeepers (2011)
It seems that we traditionally get one or two of these “haunted house” films a year. Sometimes they are done extremely well with a prime example being “The Others,” where atmosphere and story blend together to form an effective thriller. Then there are other times where things almost come together, such as with the recent “Insidious,” where the atmosphere is present, but the story gets too far out there to be effective.
Now we have “The Innkeepers,” a small thriller that tells the tale of two co-workers, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), working the final weekend before the closing of the Yankee Pedlar Inn. Claire and Luke believe the inn to be haunted by the spirit of a woman who was stood up by her fiancée on her wedding day and are seeking proof of it. There primary method is trying to capture electronic voice phenomena (EVPs) on their recorder.
There aren’t many guests at this inn, which goes a long way towards explaining why it’s about to be shut down. Aside from a woman spending some time away from her husband with her son, there’s an actress, Leanne (Kelly McGillis), who now works as a psychic and who’s come at just the right time to offer a little assistance. Both Claire and Luke take shifts in searching for evidence of the haunting, but it is Claire who has the first small encounter with what might possibly be a sign of a spiritual presence at the inn.
Before starting this review, my first thought had been that I hadn’t been very engaged by the story. However, second thoughts told me, or rather, made me ask, does that really matter in a film like this? I wasn’t particularly engaged by the story, but what did engage me was the atmosphere that writer/director Ti West was able to establish in this small group of locations.
The story is there, it’s just not developed very far beyond there being a possible haunting at this inn. What West focuses more on are the set-ups for the scares. It’s true that some of them are the standard “surprise” moments that we come to expect in most horror films these days, but some of them are done quite well and are affective (and they’re not done to death like they were in “Insidious.”)
What else makes the film effective are the realistic characters. West spends time letting us get to know what kind of people Claire and Luke are. They both don’t really seem to find this job very interesting as they sit around late at night messing around on a computer where Luke is trying to put together a paranormal site about the inn. These are youngsters who find the possibility of a haunting very exciting, that is, until they are faced with certain events that pop up. It also helps that Paxton and Hurly bring straightforward performances to their characters to make them more believable.
The supporting character of Leanne seemed a bit underused, only popping up when Claire needed her help for something, though she does offer some interesting lines of dialogue that help explain some of the film. The third act only has her showing up for a small section before disappearing again right before the final events. This act did seem a little shaky as I didn’t believe Claire’s actions near the very end of the film, especially given what had happened prior.
The film did have some problems, but somehow I found myself absorbed in it anyway. Sometimes all it takes to make a decent little horror film is some good atmosphere and realistic characters. You may find yourself shouting at the screen near the end of the film in the old clichéd manner (“Don’t go in there!”), but you too may also find yourself taken in by the eeriness it creates. 3/4 stars.