Monday, April 30, 2012

The Innkeepers (2011)

I've been waiting for this one for a while--not because it hasn't been available, but because of my self-imposed Netflix dependency.  Let it be known up front that I am a Ti West fan.  Though I sympathize with those who cannot tolerate the slow burn and the flaws of a "neophyte" filmmaker, I have enjoyed watching West mature from The Roost to Trigger Man to--one of my all-time favorite horror movies--The House of the Devil.  (I will include Cabin Fever 2 parenthetically.) And now we have his most mature film yet, The Innkeepers.  But along with maturity comes a film with which I wasn't, at first, completely smitten.

 I watched the movie Friday night, alone, late, with the lights out; in the exact conditions that horror-movie watching should be conducted in.  And, after the movie was over, I sat for a while, noodling it over.  Quite a different reaction from my last Ti West experience.  But I quickly checked myself each time I began comparing this film back to his last film, forcing myself to think (as much as possible) about the film at hand.  Then I went into the bonus features and activated the commentary with Ti West, Sara Paxton, and Pat Healey.  I don't typically rewatch a film immediately, especially with commentary turned on, but I highly recommend it with this one.

I see a lot of reviewers calling out the childishness of Paxton, but for me it works.  I find Paxton's performance, coupled with the sarcastic, passive-aggressive Pat Healey, charming.  In fact, given West's penchant for the slow-burn, this is the best cast yet.  Paxton and Healey have great chemistry and they own their bored, aimless character roles well.  After listening to the commentary, it's even more enjoyable to observe what West talks about when he says he realized that Sara cannot run or scream!  And, as I said, Healey's passive-aggressive sarcasm works well.  It never tends toward annoying or cliché, even though it is annoying and cliché.  There's at least one moment ("Yeah, I know which room you're in.  I work at the hotel.") that is perfectly executed by Healey.

Regarding the horror factor, this could be considered a chiller.  In fact, it could very well be a movie made for the Chiller TV channel.  But the chills are evenly spaced, which stands apart from West's usual pacing.  With the exception of the more overt chills (when something is actually shown), the chills work really well.  The piano scene is fantastic.  Over all though, the best scary moment comes from a super close-up of Healey's laptop; and even though I, like most others, had seen a similar video floating around the Web, it was still the most intense scene in the movie (whether that's good or bad, I'll let you decide).  In the end, what shines through all of the intense horror moments is West's cinematic decisions: video and audio, especially audio (putting us in the perspective of the headphones). 

In order to eschew spoilers, suffice it to sat that West breaks some genre conventions, which is an interesting choice.  At the same time, however, I experienced no real response, no epiphany, no a-ha moment, etc.  But, again, that's not to say that the film was bad.  I don't agree with the all's-well-that-ends-well philosophy.  It's just another variable that went into the movie's formula, to which I responded, initially, with indifference--or, rather, ambivalence--and then walked away with satisfaction.  Yes, this is a satisfying movie, mostly to the more serious, meticulous, pedantic genre fan.  It's not a game-changer; it's not mind-blowing; but it is an entertaining, well shot horror movie with a handful of crowd-pleasing moments.

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