Review: The Innkeepers

Directed by Ti West

Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis

Out now in cinemas

The Yankee Pedlar Inn is about to close its doors. Remaining employees Claire (Paxton) and Luke (Healy) attend to the final guests, including cranky writer-turned-psychic Leanne Rease-Jones (McGillis). Claire and Luke decide to spend their downtime investigating whether the inn is haunted by a murdered woman named Madeline Mallory…

After three Paranormal Activities, The Woman in Black, Insidious and two versions of Silent House (among many others), you might think you’ve had your fill of new-school haunted house shockers. But The Innkeepers is a haunted house shocker directed by the man who gave us 2009’s exceptional The House of the Devil, which should alert you to the fact that this is going to be something special.

As with The House of the Devil (and to an extent the filmmaker’s debut, the killer-bat movie The Roost) West both honours classic horror films and cleverly subverts our expectations. There are touches of The Shining, The Legend of Hell House, The Haunting and 70s exploitation pics here, but West’s film has a style and atmosphere all of its own.

As Luke and Claire prowl through the inn’s corridors, using EPG equipment to try to track down the ghost, the film builds up an escalating feeling of dread, and there’s a real sense of mystery about the identity of the remaining guests. But the shocks never arrive in the places you think they will, and the story turns out to be more heartfelt and original than it initially appears.

West is an expert when it comes to crafting scares, but The Innkeepers’ real strength is its characters. The interplay between the bespectacled, cynical Luke and the dreamy, sweet Claire is funny, believable and charming, and the film feels as if it’s building up their romance as much as building up the horror. Claire in particular is so entirely likeable, you pray nothing terrible will befall her. That’s the sign of a good horror film.

There’s good support, too, from Kelly McGillis as an alcoholic psychic, the character moving from aloof sourpuss to somebody much more sympathetic, and Girls/Tiny Furniture star Lena Dunham as a mopey waitress (the presence of the latter is a good indication that this is as much an indie relationship flick as an all-out horror).

The Innkeepers erupts in a thunderously intense final act that’ll have you watching between splayed fingers, even if the ambiguity is likely to frustrate some. It’s unlikely you’ll see a scarier, funnier or more interesting horror movie all year.

Verdict: A fresh and funny spin on haunted house conventions, The Innkeepers is a delight.  9/10

Matt McAllister  

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