The Innkeepers

Look out for Ti West. In the past, horror journalists have been quick to peg aspiring auteurs as the next John Carpenter or the next George Romero. I distinctly remember Eli Roth being embrocated by Fangoria and Rue Morgue before Cabin Fever hit theaters. There was no point in debating it; he was elected as this generation's "master of horror," and that was that. Well, it's my turn to make a bold statement about the future of fright flicks. Ti West is one of several impious minds who is going to be panegyrized by those same journalists decades down the road. They'll call him legendary, eminent, illustrious. They might even use a fancy word like "lionized." Don't believe me? He already has a few fan favorites under his belt.

2005's The Roost served as my introduction to Mr. West, a protege of cult veteran Larry Fessenden (if that name sounds familiar, it's because Larry helmed Habit and Wendigo, among other independent chillers). It was a decent flick that centered around mutant bats. Nothing groundbreaking, but it was on par with Bats (it was definitely better than 1979's Nightwing). 2009's The House of the Devil generated a groundswell of buzz. I found it to be a plodding flatliner with loads of potential. I know what you're thinking. "Um, didn't you praise Ti West in the opening paragraph?" Yes, I did. In spite of the fact that neither Roost nor Devil floored me, I could tell that there was a supremely talented horror aficionado behind the camera. I knew that it was only a matter of time before West honed his skills and tightened his craft. He just needed a tune-up.

Which (finally) brings me to The Innkeepers. This is a simple ghost story, so I won't fidget with a synopsis. I'll start with the characters. Everyone is fleshed out. It's a testament to how West has matured as a writer. Sara Paxton is incredible as Claire, a role that could have easily been a throwaway heroine with flat dialogue and conventional personality traits. Thankfully, she is written as a three-dimensional human being. Kudos to Paxton for giving a performance that I didn't think she was capable of giving. I love the fact that West worked a role reversal into the script. Here, the female lead is nerdy and overanxious, while the male lead is cynical and reserved. Pat Healy is rock solid as Luke. Again, his character is extremely well-developed, and we learn more about him as the film progresses.

I'm stressing the significance of the characterizations for a reason. In my humble opinion, the attentive script is the best thing about this unearthly fable. That's not to say that The Innkeepers is visually destitute. I dug the oblique camera angles, the clever use of darkness and the disciplined style of editing. In terms of pacing, the film does skitter to the edge of "boring," but it manages to stay within the boundaries of "methodical." Any nagging issues? To me, the ending left too many questions unanswered. It wouldn't bother me if it was meant to be open to interpretation, but something tells me that wasn't the case. Also, I expected a certain character to be an emotional wreck during the epilogue, and he wasn't. That's all I can say without dropping spoilers left and right.

In conclusion, The Innkeepers is cool. Watch it.

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