Studio:Dark Sky Films Year: 2011 Cast: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, Alison Bartlett, Jake Schlueter, George Riddle, Lena Dunham, Brenda Cooney Director: Ti West Release Date: April 24, 2012 Rating: R for some bloody images and language Run Time: 01h:41m:19s Genre(s): horror
"Everything happens for a reason, Claire. No one just ends up at The Yankee Pedlar." - Luke (Pat Healy)
After the well-deserved genre success of 1970s-era retro throwback The House of the Devil - which was followed by the colossal mess that was Cabin Fever 2 - writer/director Ti West gets creative control again with The Innkeepers. Gladly this 'haunted hotel' flick doesn't try to be some sort of reimagined The Shining, and West shows some dandy chops building tension slowly and effectively with a minimum of so-called 'money shots'.
Movie Grade: B+
DVD Grade: A-
I can't tell you how many times I have watched horror films and not felt one sense of emotional connection to any of the characters. I know it's a lot, though. Usually they are just meat bag fodder for whatever big bad there was that would eventually whittle down their number down until a final confrontation of some kind.
Writer/director Ti West - after a couple of uneven features early in his career - gave me actual characters to care about in the 2009 release The House of the Devil, and when bad things happened to them I felt different somehow. I genuinely liked these characters and I didn't want to see something horrible happen to them. But it did - and it was unnerving. That's such a huge part of what makes a really good horror film so effective; it is that challenging ability to get under the skin of the audience and make them feel sucker punched.
West has again given me characters to like and care for in his 2011 horror film The Innkeepers, a ghost story set in a practically empty New England inn set to close in a few days. Adorably perky Claire (Sara Paxton) and slacker wiseass Luke (Pat Healy) are the only two employees left, and aside from working the lonely front desk they spend their time dabbling in amateur ghost hunting as they try to get proof of a spirit that supposedly haunts The Yankee Pedlar.
There are only a few guests - including Kelly McGillis as a former television star with a secret - and that gives Claire and Luke plenty of time to explore, confide in one another and generally create a chemistry/bond that for me held the entire film together. I immediately loved these two characters and though I knew deep down that this was a horror film I did not want anything bad to happen to either of them.
The film unfolds leisurely, a deceptively slow-burn supernatural tale that does a lot with a little. The first 40 minutes or so carries a fair amount of humor as we get to know Claire, Luke and The Yankee Pedlar, but within that the initial hints at something being not quite right are laid. West avoids relying on a preponderance of jump scares (though there are a couple) and he shows how well he can construct scenes that resonate with mounting tension without having to show us all that much; there is a consistently spooky vibe in The Innkeepers, a goosebump/hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-up feel. Much of the credit for that palpable suspense goes to not just to West and D.P. Eliot Rockett, but to sound designer Graham Reznick, who has created one of the finest audio experiences of any recent horror title. It is a veritable nerve-jangler.
It's not a completely perfect film - there are some dangling, unanswered questions and logic issues - but damn if it isn't entertaining from start to finish. As a geeky-cool sidenote it is certainly worth mentioning that the cast/crew not only filmed at the actual Yankee Pedlar hotel in Torrington, CT but stayed there as well during production. I think that type of immersive on-location shooting - as opposed to sets and studios - gives the film an additional dimension of tangible reality that comes through onscreen for viewers.
And I would work the nightshift at a haunted hotel with Sara Paxton ANYTIME.
The 2.40:1 AVC-encoded 1080p transfer from Dark Sky retains the much-needed original film grain, yet still provides a well-balanced, evenly saturated color palette throughout. It's a very nice looking transfer, with skintones that look extremely natural and facial/hair textures are detailed, especially on closeups. There is a scene with Sara Paxton shot from behind and I found myself focusing on the clarity of the individual hairs on her head, almost to the point of distraction. Black levels are a bit less consistent, running the gamut from solid/inky to something slightly muddier. No measurable compression issues to content with here at all.
Sure, the video transfer is nice, but it is the audio transfer that is the big standout here (thank you, Graham Reznick) and is reason enough to seek this out on Blu-Ray. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 provides probably the biggest .LFE workout my system has seen in some time, and that's in a film without a single explosion, gunfight or spaceship. Long, sonorous rumbles create a wonderfully unnerving sensation - like David Lynch did in Inland Empire - and are augmented by some truly creepy rear channel cues that include ghostly whispers, doors closing, static bursts and distant creaks. The movement across the front channels is equally effective in creating tension and suspense, as well. Voice quality is clear at all times, too.
There are a pair of audio commentaries that probably could have been reduced to just one, if you ask me. Track one features writer/director/editor Ti West, along with 2nd Unit Director/Sound Designer Graham Reznick and producers Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden, while track two has West along with lead actors Sara Paxton and Pat Healy. As much as I loved Paxton and Healy in the film their contributions with West tend to fall into the "light, frothy and giggly" category, often with stretches of silence. The content is much less informative than the more production-oriented track with West, Reznick, Phok and Fessenden, which I would recommend. Reznick, in particular, offers some great insight into the film's unique mood-enhancing sound design.
Also included is The Innkeepers: Behind The Scenes (07m:28s) that is a hodge-podge of comments from cast/crew (where we learn such facts as Sara Paxton's dog is named Balls) but is most notable for discussing how they all lived in the actual real-life Yankee Pedlar during filming there. The film's trailer is also included.