Dark Sky Films // 2012 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // May 11th, 2012
Some guests never check out.
Writer/director Ti West made a name for himself in the horror genre with 2009's The House of the Devil, an expertly executed tribute to horror movies of the late '70s and early '80s.
His latest movie, The Innkeepers, is even better.
The rumored-to-be-haunted Yankee Pedlar hotel is shutting its doors for good at the end of the weekend, so its last two employees, Claire (Sara Paxton, Shark Night) and Luke (Pat Healy, Ghost World) are staying over to find some ghosts. However, a former sitcom actress-turned-medium (Kelly McGillis, Top Gun) begins getting signs that maybe Claire and Luke won't like what they find.
While I'm a fan of West's "breakthrough" movie, I still don't feel The House of the Devil ever really transcends its gimmick; it looks and feels just like a horror movie from 1980, but to what end? Even though the movie makes good use of West's "slow burn" approach to horror (the style for which he's becoming known), it can be taxing at times. We never really get to know lead character, aren't as invested in her plight as we should be, and it's a long slow march towards the inevitable. That's all been corrected with The Innkeepers, which isn't just West's best film to date but also one of the best movies of the year.
What distinguishes The Innkeepers from almost every other recent horror movie is the degree to which we become invested in these characters. The two leads are so well drawn and stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy so natural and funny together the movie would even work without any horror elements. I could easily watch the two of them dick around their dead-end jobs for two hours without any ghosts, creepy silences, or steadily mounting dread. I like these people. I want what's best for them. That detail makes all the difference once things start to get scary. West is fast becoming one of the best genre directors at building an atmosphere that's genuinely scary. Sure, he's got a great location with the Yankee Pedlar (an actual working hotel where the cast and crew of The House of the Devil stayed during production), but it's not as though haunted hotels haven't been done before -- and well, too (I'm looking at you, Jack Torrence). But West avoids making his movie feel like a junior version of The Shining, by building tension in a style all his own.
Ghost stories like The Innkeepers often get a lot of praise for refraining from the use of excessive gore, as though that alone makes a movie good or bad. Like anything else, gore is a tool which can be used correctly or incorrectly. Saying a movie is good because it doesn't have any gore is like saying a movie is good because it doesn't have any kissing. Or dogs. The restraint West shows here isn't because of a position he holds on violence. It's because it's right for the movie. West still hasn't solved one problem -- his movies wrap up because they have to, not because the story arrives at the perfect moment. Ghost stories are tough to end in general, so at least the resolution of The Innkeepers makes sense, if not completely satisfying.
After an incredibly limited theatrical engagement and a brief VOD run, The Innkeepers arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Dark Sky Films. The 2.40:1/1080p HD, AVC-encoded transfer looks very good, with consistent black levels that intentionally swallow up parts of the image. Skin tones are natural, detail is good ,and flaws are imperceptible. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is where the disc really shines. Upon starting the movie, viewers will be prompted to play The Innkeepers LOUD, and with good reason: there's hardly anything in the movie that contributes to the slow-burn dread more than the soundtrack, and the Blu-ray reproduces every silence and scare beautifully. Dialogue is always clear, and composer Jeff Grace's hauntingly beautiful score is layered in very nicely.
The major bonus feature is a pair of commentary tracks, both featuring West and a different group of participants. The first track, which is more technically-minded, features West, sound designer Graham Reznik, and producers Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden (an accomplished filmmaker in his own right). There's a lot of good production information and nuts-and-bolts filmmaking discussion here. The second track, featuring West and stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, is much lighter and jokier, offering a few good stories and a breezy tone but not a whole lot else. We also get a brief featurette on the real Yankee Pedlar (which is still open for business) and the film's original theatrical trailer presented in HD.
Yes, 2012 is just over a third of the way complete, but The Innkeepers remains my favorite movie of the year thus far. There are certainly those who will not have the patience for it, but those who do will be rewarded with a rare horror movie that would be great even without any of the horror. Is there another horror movie about which you could say the same thing?
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site