During a stint in college, I worked at Subway and I learned a valuable life lesson there. Simplicity is sometimes the most effective way to make something great. People would frequently go crazy requesting all the free toppings, sauces, and veggies to the point where even the most skilled “sandwich artist” (and I was damn good) wouldn’t be able to shut their sandwich without it dropping a sloppy, mustardy deuce all over the counter. Italian cold cut. Lettuce, pickles hots, mayo. That’s all you need. If you start adding in black olives, and jalapenos, and yellow peppers and cucumbers and onions and green peppers, It just gets to be too much. And you’re probably going to look at me like I’m the idiot when your sub roll bursts open at the bottom, you greedy son of a bitch. Ok, sorry for the ‘Nam flashback. You get the point.
Ti West’s 2011 haunted house flick The Innkeepers is just that. It’s an Italian cold cut with lettuce, pickles, hots, and mayo. Everything about this movie screams minimalism. There are essentially just 3 real characters. And a few ghosts. The plot is not complicated. This simplicity allows the filmmakers to really dive deep into the details of the storyline and of the characters. We get to know these people very well and we really care about them. It’s all very well crafted and super scary. The absence of a fancy intricate plotline allows West to really create a powerful horror atmosphere.
The story focuses on two 20-something employees, Claire and Luke, working at an old hotel on the last weekend before it goes out of business. They’ve always heard the legend about a ghost in the hotel and they want to take this last opportunity to make contact with her. The story says that decades ago, a young woman was left at the alter by her husband-to-be. She then went back to the hotel and killed herself. As Claire and Luke try to record evidence of the ghost, creepy and disturbing things start happening in the hotel. Now, by some amazing coincidence, one of the last guests to check into the hotel turns out to be a sort of psychic healer who can make contact with spirits. That certainly worked out well. So Claire and Miss Cleo have a little séance and actually get through to the spirit in the hotel. It turns out that it’s not just a sad old ghost lurking the halls. And whatever it is, it’s grumpy.
The way this little beast unfolds could almost be mistaken for slow-paced. But it’s really just a careful, deliberate building of atmosphere and suspense. Really nothing scary happens until the last half hour. So you’ve got a good hour and ten of just character development and steadily mounting suspense. It sounds boring but it’s not. West does a great job of keeping you on your toes the whole time with sound effects, lighting, and music. There are a couple of jump scares but they don’t feel cheap or anything. There are even a few spots where you know it’s coming and it still gets you.
This is not to sound like I’m some kind of macho dude who’s not afraid of anything, but there are very few movies that actually scare me. I can appreciate when a movie is scary without actually being scared by it. This movie literally scared me. I got up to go to the bathroom after it was over and I took a big step off my bed in case there was something underneath about to grab me. And before you ask, Yes, I’m a grown man. Ti West just does a great job of building something believable and genuine in your head. He’s crafted this horror atmosphere in your head for the first 2/3 of the movie to the point that when all the shit goes down at the end, it’s that much more believable. Reminds me a lot of the structure of his 2009 The House of the Devil, which I also loved. West is becoming one of my favorite working horror directors. He’s not about the fancy stuff, he’s just about making people piss their pants. And that’s what good horror should be.
I don’t know that this movie got the greatest reviews but I loved it. It’s not only a great story, but it’s fucking scary. One of my favorite horror movies in the past few years.
- Is it scary: 9– Ti West has done a great job setting up the audience to believe the scary shit on the screen.
- Originality: 7– It was a cool twist on a fairly mundane plotline. It sounds like it could be just another ghost story, but the way it’s handled, The Innkeepers proves to be more than that.
- Blood: 4– Not really bloody at all except for a couple of key scenes. West just proves that you don’t need a lot of blood to make a great horror movie (though we love it anyway).
- Believability: 8– The characters were so simple (in a good way) and authentic that you really got to know/care about them. The way they were presented and the way they interacted was, at some points, painfully realistic.
- Setting/Cinematography: 8– This is another great thing about the film. It is visually scary. The setting is great- big, old, dark, empty hotel. And they way they’ve used light and shadow really made this intense to watch. There are scenes that are almost entirely dark so you can barely see anything. That really helped build the suspense.
Final Score: 36/50