Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Innkeepers (2011)

I like Ti West. A lot. I think that he's one of the most creative American film makers working today. I watched his recent film The Innkeepers (2011) as an on-demand rental via the Zune application on XBOX Live Marketplace. Twice.

Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are the sole workers on shift during the last weekend of business for the Yankee Pedlar Inn. An ex-actress, Lea Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) is a guest in the hotel. The inn appears very old, and like most old American buildings and institutions, this inn houses a ghost story. There once was a young woman named Madeline O'Malley who suffered a poor fate at the inn. Her corpse was hidden in the basement. Luke has created a website to document the paranormal activity at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, and Claire has agreed to help him this weekend, before the inn closes and everything shuts down.

Today, most horror genres are tired. Supernatural horror is especially tired. This is not to say that viewers do not get enough of it: television shows like Ghost Adventures and film series, like Paranormal Activity, are certainly strong evidence that the supernatural genre can generate a vast amount of income from the populace. There is, however, certainly a dearth of creative and innovative supernatural horror cinema. Is The Innkeepers innovative and creative supernatural cinema? Yes and no. Creative, yes, but innovative, no.

The Innkeepers is really buttressed by Sara Paxton's leading role as Claire. To me, she is a classic 'slacker' from the mold of the early to mid-nineties (trust me, as it takes one to know one.) As an incidental side note, I have no idea what year The Innkeepers is set but am fairly certain that it isn't 2011. It is so refreshing to watch someone so young and so not corporate. Claire tells Lea that she works in the hotel and beyond doing that she has no idea what her future holds for her; and she later asks Luke why does everyone have such high expectations? Today, one would intuitively think that she would be full of fear; and she better start networking, filling her CV with internships and the like, if she wants to have a successful career. She's positive and happy, however, with her station in life. Claire is even kind of goofy.

Hence, connecting with Claire is the key to enjoying to The Innkeepers. If you do not find her endearing, then The Innkeepers will be a chore to sit through, as this is pretty much Claire's film from beginning to end. I have never seen Paxton in any other film nor one that I can remember. She's wonderfully sweet as Claire and I found her energy infectious--so much so that if The Innkeepers were a straight comedy, then she would sell it for me. There's quite a bit of humor in The Innkeepers with a lot of it at Claire's expense. Paxton balances both the humor and the horror fairly adeptly.

I watched The Innkeepers twice in an attempt to resolve its ambiguities. Quite a bit of the film is vague: there are a lot of clues in the dialogue and elsewhere but there is little revelation. I'm curious as to whether The Innkeepers actually has an overall, unifying theme and I cannot say with certainty that it does. There are lots of interesting ideas within but no persuasive dominate theme stands out. What follows in the next paragraph are undeniably SPOILERS, so discontinue reading now if you have not seen The Innkeepers. During the following paragraph is also where I reveal how The Innkeepers is not innovative supernatural cinema.

After speaking with my brother, who watched the second viewing with me, we are both certain that The Innkeepers is a derivation of the “dead hate the living” theme.  The dead harbor a grudge towards all that are still living, a la Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on. In the pivotal scene where McGillis’s Lea reveals to Claire that she’s a healer (and a medium), the dialogue supports this. My brother and I believe that the spirits are talking to Lea revealing their plan to kill Claire and that “she,” meaning Lea, cannot help her. Claire, of course, erroneously interprets Lea to mean that Claire cannot help Madeline O'Malley. The only thing that Lea can do is to tell Claire not to go into the basement...of course, Lea doesn’t listen. Twice. Also, Claire’s overwhelmingly positive attitude makes more sense in this regard as a target for vengeful spirits. She’s living life regardless of its future. As interesting as this theme and related ones are, they are ultimately unsatisfying. Ti West makes low-key, slow-burning, and intense films. I think that some film maker in the future is going to have to really kick supernatural cinema in the ass for it to be innovative.

Anyway, I enjoyed The Innkeepers quite a bit and I’m certain that I’ll purchase the eventual Blu-Ray or DVD release. I’d love to hear a Ti West commentary. In any case, I would classify The Innkeepers as light, but it’s still way better than most films of its elk out there.


Ben said...

Hi Hans - nice to see Quiet Cool back in action.

I like Ti West's stuff quite a bit too. I saw The Innkeepers at a cinema screening last year, and would pretty much agree with your assessment I think - very well-made, well-written, well-acted, definitely head & shoulders above yr average modern horror movie, but I was disappointed that the supernatural aspect of the story was so cliched and underdeveloped...

Dr.LargePackage said...

Super review, Hans. The dead may hate the living, but what they don't know, and what no one told them, is that I hate those dead motherfuckers more. Run and tell that, because that is large and in charge, homeboy.