FEATURE: Shocktober - The Innkeepers

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here. Spoilers ahead for both The Innkeepers and The Blair Witch Project.

The Innkeepers follows two employees, Luke (Pat Healy) and Claire (Sara Paxton) of a failing and soon-to-be-closed hotel called the Yankee Pedlar. Both are captivated by the possibility of the hotel being haunted, mainly by a ghost called Madeline O'Malley, a woman who supposedly died in the hotel and remains trapped there. With the hotel winding down, there are only two other guests, one of whom is a former actress now psychic called Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis). As the hunt for O'Malley's ghost continues, Claire bears witness to a series of increasingly strange events and thinks she is in contact with the ghost.

Written, directed and edited by Ti West, it's clear that a lot of love and affection has been poured into the film from the references dropped to the clear attention to detail that inhabits every frame. West shoots it dynamically, keeping the camera moving or at odd angles to keep you visually unsettled. The effect does start to wear off towards though as the umpteenth dutch angle hits the screen. There was an overwhelming feeling that there were only a few tricks up his sleeve for this one location and he used them all pretty quickly before even getting to any scares.

This is the main problem with The Innkeepers; it's all build-up and zero payoff. The opening conversations between Luke and Claire are entertaining enough and help to build up a mythology background for the hotel. In my review of The Blair Witch Project, I talked about how interesting it was that the film built up its own mythos around which to base its scares as well as using this to make the location seem threatening. The Madeline O'Malley story is an attempt at doing something similar and imbuing the hotel with its own atmosphere. However, the story never felt tangible in the same way that the Blair Witch did and The Innkeepers is poorer for it. By the time Madeline herself appears, the uncertainty about her existence has not only worn off, but ceased to have any effect.

It also doesn't help that the build-up goes on for far too long and isn't particularly good at establishing any kind of atmosphere in which the shocks live up to their name. Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, the film only devotes about twenty minutes of this to genuine scares. There is far too much time spent watching Claire wander around the hotel or getting drunk with Luke or having weird conversations with the hotel guests. There should always be a feeling of ebb and flow to a good horror film; for every shock, there needs to be a release. The balance was never quite right here. Early shocks are cheap jump scares that do little to aid the atmosphere of the film, whilst later ones don't feel earned because the atmosphere feels flat.

This imbalance also ensures that the ending is deeply unsatisfying. I've spoken in these reviews before of how powerful mere suggestion can be for an audience and I have to return again to The Blair Witch Project ending in which practically nothing is explained. The same happens in The Innkeepers and instead of chilling you even more than the film's events have done, it feels like a cheap get-out clause. The Innkeepers never earns its mystery ending because that mystery isn't very good to begin with.

It's saddened me a little that I found The Innkeepers wanting as it's a film I've been meaning to watch for a while. I think there's a good story in there and the characters were well written enough to deserve more than what the film ended up being. Alas, even Kelly McGillis being awesome and enigmatic couldn't save this one from banality. 

- Becky

You can check out the full list of Shocktober reviews so far here.

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