The Innkeepers review

Ready for a horror movie that’s absolutely worth the admission price? Simon checks out Ti West’s The Innkeepers…

Given the number of gimmicks and distractions that have increasingly dominated the horror movie genre, it’s massively refreshing to be able to talk about a film that bothers to do the basics well. In the case of The Innkeepers, Incredibly well, in fact. Keeping its shock moments in its pocket until they’re needed, narrowing down its gore to what’s necessary and eschewing the nastier edges of the genre, The Innkeepers emerges as a tense, engaging, properly-made piece of work.

It’s also one of the best horror films in some time.

The setting could come from any movie from the corner of the video shop. A long-running hotel lies all-but-empty on its last weekend of business before closing down, with just a handful of guests, and two bored members of staff left to run the place. Those members of staff – Luke and Claire – have long since run out of any affection for the place, and are more interested in getting through the last long nights without getting bored. A few spooky stories, the Internet, and the odd hint of something more between the two seem to pass the time.

But then, we meet the guests. A mother in a bad mood, complete with her young son. An old man, who wants to stay on the floor that’s no longer in use. And then there’s Kelly McGillis, playing an actress with apparent psychic abilities. It’s a small collection of characters, albeit one drawn particularly well by writer-director Ti West.

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It’s West’s diligence and skill behind the camera that’s instrumental in this working quite so well. Sure, he mixes in his very close shots to build up shock value with the wider, emptier frames. But he proves expert at slowly, gently, building up the tension. The Innkeepers is a film where not much, you could argue, tends to happen, but it really feels like there’s lots going on, even in the stillness of it all. It’s brilliantly paced, with the spookier elements of the film gradually coming more and more into play.

And The Innkeepers most certainly is spooky. As lauded as the excellent The Cabin In The Woods was earlier in the year, the one ingredient it perhaps lacked was an ability to make you jump out of your seat. The Innkeepers has no such paucity of such moments, and West proves expert at pulling his shocks off.

He’s served well by two particularly strong performances in front of the camera, too. Sara Paxton’s Claire is a believable lead character, and takes centre stage for much of the movie. She sells the monotony, and then gradually creeping sense of unease, with a restraint that suggests there’s a lot, lot more to come in her career. Meanwhile, Pat Healy, as Luke, is strong in a different way, arguably with a slightly less clear-cut character, but just as interesting to spend time with.

There’s the odd moment in The Innkeepers where you wonder if it’s just studied the horror rule book a little too closer, perhaps, if you really wanted to be picky. But mostly, this is an incredibly well-accomplished, three act blend of horror and suspense that delivers far more than its low key release may lead you to believe. As is increasingly the case, the less you know, the better.

Ti West, meanwhile, has firmly marked his card as one of the most interesting writer-directors working in the genre today. He’ll have to go some to top just what he’s managed here, though, as The Innkeepers is strong horror cinema.

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4 out of 5