This review may contain spoilers
Long, twisting corridors. Rows of identical doors shut tight to the outside world. Disembodied voices floating through the empty hallways at night. And, of course, the distinct awareness that you’re not alone. The others are all around you.
Maybe you catch glimpses of them hurrying down a stairwell or disappearing into a doorway. Maybe you hear them shuffling about above you or banging on the walls next door. Or maybe you get stuck waiting behind them while they fill up their ice buckets. That’s right. I’m not talking about a haunted asylum. I’m a talking about a hotel—the setting of today’s Netflix Horror Find. And while it never really tries to be The Shining, it unfortunately never quite achieves the tension or the lasting impact of Kubrick’s film either.
The Innkeepers, directed by Ti West, (whom horror fans may know for films like The Roost and The House of the Devil) stars Sara Paxton (The Last House on the Left) as Claire, a young employee at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a historic hotel about to close its doors for good. Other major characters include Claire’s co-worker Luke (Pat Healy) and a former television actress turned psychic healer (Kelly McGillis).
Both Claire and Luke are amateur paranormal investigators who spend much of the film either talking about or hunting for the ghost of Madeline O’Malley, a scorned bride who, according to legend, hanged herself in the building over a century ago. And that’s where The Innkeepers begins to fall apart. There is quite a lot of talking about the ghost. But there are very few scares. And you can imagine how this is problem in a film that’s an hour and 40 minutes long.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with slow horror, and West’s own The House of the Devil has already proven that a jaw dropping finale can make over an hour of steady build worth it. But The Innkeepers, on the other hand, never really reaches that level. The climax, like most of the film, is disappointing. And the final few moments of Claire really confronting the hotel’s specters do not make the other long, tedious scenes of her aimlessly wandering about worth it.
And there is a lot of aimless wandering. At one point, our protagonist sits in the laundry room for several minutes trying to catch disembodied voices on her recorder. And after what feels like an eternity, she doesn’t actually find anything.
Now, the old ‘build up and let down’ is a staple of the horror genre. A character slowly creeps towards a closed room, pulls open the door, and finds it empty. We get nervous because maybe just maybe there could have been something on the other side. So when there isn’t, we let out a breath of relief.
But if nothing has happened so far to make me really believe that Claire would hear something on that recording, why should I be forced to sit through a long, boring scene of her doing nothing? Especially when there’s no payoff.
I get what the film is trying to do. It feels almost like a mockumentary, and it does strive for a sort of realistic ghost story. We see a pair of co-workers chasing something which may or may not exist, and their successes, when they have them, are minor. Throw in a setting that’s not particularly grand or isolated, and you have something which feels almost like real life. But can the monotony of our everyday existences really translate well to the movie screen?
I don’t know. But I do know that the film, in addition to being tedious, feels somewhat scatterbrained. There are some moments of genuine comedy. But they feel out of place when the darker ghost plot really takes off. And even the camerawork sometimes feels odd. Slow, fluid shots of hallways are combined with slick, swift close-ups, and nothing fits together coherently.
But, despite it all, the film does have its redeeming qualities. Some of the scares are truly unnerving. One particular dream sequence involving a bed sheet comes to mind. And Kelly McGillis really shines as Leanne Rease-Jones, through whom much of the film’s mythology is established.
As for our heroine, Paxton does not deliver a bad performance, but she’s not necessarily a standout either. Pat Healy mostly overshadows her, but in truth, neither is really given much material to work with (beyond broodily walking down empty corridors).
Still, at the end of the day, the film certainly had potential. It could have been an eerie, memorable—albeit standard—cinematic ghost story. All the pieces are there— a psychic, a dead bride, a mysterious guest who insists on having a particular room. But instead, we got a tedious film whose slow pace does nothing but make it drag. The scares are too few and far between to make it worth it. And that’s really too bad. Because West is a talented director. All the same, if you want a more impressive example of his work, you ought to look elsewhere.
Final Score: 2 out of 5