If you think the idea of someone with a sheet over their head in a haunted hotel is more laughable than scary then think again.
In an age saturated with found-footage horror films, Cabin Fever 2 director Ti West goes for a more traditional approach in his latest offering, The Innkeepers, complete with such classic staples as a spooky soundtrack (a subdued but menacing score by Jeff Grace), a ghost that you actually see up close (and that appears to have a sense of humour) and a piano that plays itself.
The shots in which the supernatural spectre is revealed in all its dubious glory achieve what few Hollywood horror films do and cross the elusive thresh-hold from terror into true horror. Timing is everything at such moments and Ti West is a master at showing what he has to show long enough for your shock to mount and mount without short-circuiting into laughter.
Two bored staff members of a hotel that is closing down in a few days and that has more than its fair share of creepy legends surrounding it appoint themselves ghost-hunters, using the obligatory recording equipment to try to get a shot of the ghost for their website. Hand-held cameras and mikes are a requisite staple of modern horror and they’re used effectively here, with a light touch and without sacrificing a more vivid depiction of menace.
The film is set in a real-life Northern Connecticut hotel called The Yankee Pedlar that’s also rumoured to be haunted and the film’s visuals are inevitably reminiscent of The Shining, with lit interiors and frightening things happening in the day as well as at night. Contrary to the adage that hidden fears aren’t nearly so frightening when you confront them in broad daylight, everything that happens here involving ghosts is frightening regardless of whether it happens in the day or at night. At times it feels as if there’s no reprieve from the fear.
Back-stories can be the most cumbersome element of horror films but the background to the events at The Yankee Pedlar is handled well. You never entirely find out what happened to the woman who now haunts the hotel – what her secret was – but it’s pretty clear if you put two and two together.
Sadly, where the film goes wrong is in the pacing. Instead of building tension, some of the exposition scenes muddy the purity of the horror. A scene with one of the hotel guests, a fading TV star turned psychic (Kelly McGillis), threatens to derail the film completely. A charismatic screen presence, McGillis is nonetheless saddled with a speech on the interconnectedness of all life that bogs the story down rather than advancing it and the scenes with her bullying the lead character, Claire (Sara Paxton), though interesting, seem to belong in a different film.
Nevertheless, the film kicks back into life when the ghost makes her re-entrance and the finale is both terrifying and disturbing.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th June 2012 by Metrodome Distribution.
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