THE INNKEEPERS (2011)
Movie review by Jenny Orosel
If you’re unfamiliar, MY DINNER WITH ANDRE is two guys having dinner and talking. That’s it. No action and, if memory serves me right, they don’t even get up from the table. THE INNKEEPERS (2011) was like that, and not in a good way.
It’s the final days for The Yankee Peddler Inn, and the last two employees are spending the last days holed up in rooms at the hotel, pranking each other and not being helpful to the handful of guests. The first innkeeper is Claire (Sara Paxton), a twenty-something with no goals, no interests, no personality really. She works with Luke (Pat Healy), a web developer at heart who’s working on a website detailing the haunting of The Yankee Peddler. Decades ago, a woman was murdered there and supposedly haunts the halls to this day. With only a little while left before the hotel closes down, there are only a handful of guests: a crabby mother with a whiny son, a former TV star in town for a convention, and a mysterious old man who demands to stay in one specific room, although that entire floor had already been stripped. Out of boredom, the two innkeepers try and record the haunting (in between forgetting to stock towels).
When making a horror film, there are a couple different ways to approach it. One is to sprinkle it with scares, building to one giant climax. Except for a few fake-outs (including the use of an old internet meme of “now keep looking closely at this picture…keep looking…boo!”), there wasn’t even an attempt at a scare until more than forty minutes into the movie. And then you have to wait just about as long for the next one, which is the final climax. In and of itself, that’s fine because you can build tension by developing the characters, putting you at the edge of your seat with worry over the well-being of the heroes. THE INNKEEPERS aimed for the latter, relying on mood, characters and story to create suspense. In my opinion, it failed.
Director Ti West (who also gave us 2009’s HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) uses a lot of creepy music to create the tone. That can be a useful tool when it’s meant to underscore an eerie sense to the scene, or build up to a fright. But here, it’s ever-present, and by the time something scary did come about, I’d become immune to it. In fact, its use in almost every scene became more of an annoyance than anything. And the story itself isn’t nearly enough to rely on. Less than half the movie has anything to do with the haunting or the ghosts, but rather characterization. I understand the reasoning behind this—the more we know and care about the protagonists, the more their peril affects us. The problem is I didn’t care about the characters.
The movie rides on the shoulders of Claire. Almost every scene is about her, and she’s in almost every shot of the film. The actress did a decent job with the role and was perfectly believable. The problem was not with her, but how the character was written. Claire was supposed to represent the young everywoman: aimless, directionless, passionless. However, while most people aren’t overachievers, they tend to care about something. Even if it’s a nightly game of Sonic the Hedgehog, even the dullest among us has something they find interesting. She was completely unrelatable. The secondary characters didn’t fare very well, either. Her coworker, Luke, was your stereotypical computer geek with a laptop full of porn links. The mother and child served no purpose in the movie—they didn’t move the story forward (or even backward for that matter) and didn’t bring a thing to the movie. The wise old faded star (played by Kelly McGillis, in a role that will make anyone who saw TOP GUN in the theater back in 1986 feel old) was the most interesting character, but it still isn’t saying much. She just happened to know exactly what was needed at the right time, and surprisingly, had the exact skills the writers needed to move the plot along. Her character was just too convenient to be believable enough to keep me in the story. As for the old man, although he was integral to the ending, he barely appeared for fifteen minutes of time, just enough to perfectly play the Deus Ex Machina role.
Speaking of the ending, it was painfully awkward. In fact, it rendered about an hour and twenty minutes of the movie totally useless. Perhaps the ending would have worked if, even a little, I cared about Claire or what happened to her. The best part of the end was the fact that it was the end, and I could move on with my life.
THE INNKEEPERS seems to have garnered quite a bit of praise, hitting a surprising 78% on RottenTomatoes.com. Most of the reviews were along the lines of “Finally, a horror movie that doesn’t rely on gore” and “I’m glad it used tone rather than blood and guts.” So much praise is coming from its genre, rather than itself as a movie. This goes to show just how hungry audiences are for quiet horror, that by simply being such it gains bonus points. THE INNKEEPERS had the quiet part down, but forgot about the horror. Looking at the praise this got, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if somebody made a halfway decent (let alone good) piece of quiet horror. For now, all we can do is wonder.
Out of five stars: a 30 watt light bulb.
© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel
(Note: despite being made in 2011, THE INNKEEPERS is currently in limited theatrical release in selected cities, and is also availble on some cable OnDemand services)