Horror fans are hanging a lot on Ti West. The director of House of the Devil and Cabin Fever 2 (which he is asked to be removed in recognition) seems to be holding an entire genre on his shoulders at the moment.
After all, Rob Zombie is doing laundry commercials. Wes Craven couldn’t even revive his own Scream franchise. Guillermo del Toro is waiting five years between films and Eli Roth has no directorial projects circled on his calendar.
Luckily, the future of horror may rest with talents such as West who in 2009 surprised us with the very creepy and deliberate House of the Devil that won over both fans and critics alike. Ti West’s recent project is The Innkeepers, a horror/thriller about a hotel about to go out of business and the two employees who use the setting as a backdrop for their paranormal website.
The hotel is The Yankee Pedlar Inn located in New England. It’s an older 19th century hotel and Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) look to put in their final hours at the establishment documenting the strange occurrences and using their geeky EVP recorder.
That’s not to suggest that the hotel doesn’t still have guests. In fact a former actress, Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis – Top Gun, Stakeland) who also happens to be a psychic has checked into the hotel and Claire is all too happy to get Leanne assisting with establishing a link to the other side.
Ti West maintains the slow burn that he masterfully pulled off in House of the Devil. Things do not move overly fast in the first half of The Innkeepers and the time is used to establish both the history of the building and the shallow depth of our two main characters.
When things do start to ‘happen’, they are not the subtle scares and creeps that you would expect from the set-up. Instead, they are out-and-out jump scares, deliberate and calculated. We can pretty much guarantee that you are going to jump out of your chair at least once spilling popcorn all over your date during any screening. But we can’t guarantee you are going to get anything from the jump. Imagine your big brother hiding around your bedroom wall when you walk into the room and being trumpeted with a thunderous boo (and maybe a heightened musical score to assist with the fright). You will likely jump, be angry for being duped, then go about your business. The same might be said for the jump scares in The Innkeepers. They were as if someone put an electrical charge under my seat to wake me up in case I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as I should have.
Thing is, we were buying into the whole idea of The Innkeepers without the cheap scares. The characters were interchangeable, but West patiently unfolds his story on his terms and we were sucked into the darkened halls and emptiness of the grand hotel and all the historical lore that came with the location. West can also handle dialogue better than most horror film writer/directors and the conversations that his characters have in The Innkeepers (and House of the Devil for that matter) are plausible dialogues without forced metaphors or set-up jokes.
All this made The Innkeepers a fun film. A forgettable film, but a fun one. It was fun to watch an entire packed house jump at the same time. And it was fun in trying to play a horror form of Clue and determine which, if any, of the characters have any bearing on what is about to occur.
If you were thinking that Ti West was going to springboard out of House of the Devil and knock his next film out of the park, you may have to wait one more film. Still, The Innkeepers is a great companion film to HotD and it shows a director who is confident and capable of bringing the goods. Even if they are brought with all-too-simple jump scares.