Saturday, October 1, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 1: The Innkeepers

It’s a bit of a tradition for me to kick off 31 Days Of Horror with a personal favorite. A film that sums up what I find so invigorating about the horror genre as a whole. I am pleased to be able to continue this tradition with the fourth (yikes!) year of 31 Days Of Horror, albeit with a film that has not yet seen its official release.

Rest assured, I’m not worried that I’m being premature admitting The Innkeepers into my own personal canon so early. So much of what Ti West does can be seen as a direct reaction against what the rest of horror is doing and God bless him for it. He’s coming up in a generation of horror filmmakers for who story, character, actual investment are all tertiary concerns. West realizes that they are all that matter. It’s no hyperbole to say that with The Innkeepers Ti West has made a film that is exactly what I want in a horror movie.

The Innkeepers follows two employees of a run down hotel which is soon to face demolition. The hotel is supposedly haunted and the two have been playing at ghost hunting as a hobby to pass the time for a while. But now with the place shutting its doors permanently and taking advantage of a nearly empty house, they decide to pull out all the stops.

The first third of the movie is relaxed, funny. Like West’s other films it’s a definite slow burn and once again the chorus of Mountain Dew addled attention spans will probably dislike the film. Fuck ‘em. It’s all to a piece, The Innkeepers is intensely character driven horror, West allows us to grow as comfortable with the characters as they are with each other. He is, of course, aided by the performers Sara Paxton, who is as cute as two buttons, and Pat Healy who’s sardonic and bitterly funny without feeling stock. The two have a report that doesn’t for a moment feel forced.

The Innkeepers is a deceptively organic movie. It only feels conversational; in reality West has made an artfully constructed movie, slowly building his tension, only seeming to disperse it with a few big laughs. He creates an atmosphere of day lit horror, casting everything under sickly fluorescents, though he is more than able at opening up a carnivorous pit of Lewtonesque shadow.

Narratively West is in complete control adding just the perfect touch of ambiguity to the proceedings. He gives you the answer to every question, but he does not answer every question for you. A crucial distinction. West has the rare ability for a horror filmmaker to use fear as metaphor without overplaying his hand. Without giving too much away, he plays very knowingly with the idea of “service industry hell.” Of the frustration at being stuck in a dead end job “forever” of never being able to “move on.” An anxiety I find all too relatable. But it’s not overpowering, it never calls attention to itself. West puts it on the table and leaves it there for you to take or leave. It’s a grace note among many, uninsistant.

There are a few minor issues with the film. As affective as House Of The Devil was, it’s easy to forget that it didn’t really show all that much that was supernatural (Aside from “Grandma” and that’s arguable). In the Innkeepers he does and one gets the feeling that West is not yet a hundred percent comfortable doing so. Don’t get me wrong there’s some horrific imagery here (which I am not going to spoil) but the most effective supernatural imagery is the imagery that looks the least supernatural. It’s certainly not a big deal; it just makes West the latest director to fall victim to hundred Foot Bug Syndrome. No matter how terrible the hundred foot tall bug is at least he wasn’t a thousand foot bug.  Still it speaks well of West that though his imagery is merely scary, his implications are horrifying.

Another problem is that West got a steadicam this time out and you can see he’s really excited about it. There are about half a dozen sweeping, unmotivated shots, which wouldn’t be such a big deal if they didn’t stick out so noticeably with West’s austere, classical style. Imagine The Haunting with a day of second unit done by Sam Raimi. Similarly problematic is the subplot involving a psychic staying at the hotel. Kelly McGillis does a great job in the role and she is necessary for the delivery of a pretty crucial piece of exposition. But at the Q&A after the film West mentioned that he wanted to make a horror film in which the characters were “unequipped” to be in a horror film and McGillis breaks that tone. 

These are really just quibbles though. They do nothing to diminish the film as a whole.

Like House Of The Devil, scratch that more so than House Of The Devil, the pleasures of the film are modest ones. I don’t mean that as a criticism, far from it. If you come into The Innkeepers expecting big special effects, and moments of ultra violence you will be disappointed. If all horror is to you is a lightshow with prosthetics and stage blood you will be disappointed.

But if you are like me. If you see horror as an expression of something deep and pure. If you appreciate a film that gnaws on you rather than revealing all its secrets at once, than I believe that you will love The Innkeepers as much as I do. 


So that's the kick off for 31 Days Of Horror I think it's going to be a great year. 

There's going to be lots of great stuff this October, I'm  turning over my inReads articles to the forces of darkness too. So for the month of October expect an embarrassment of riches. Let's just hope I can survive it. 


A hero never dies said...

Really excited to see The Innkeepers, I loved House of the devil. Great review.

Shawn Robare said...

I dug his point of view in House of the Devil, so you've got me curious about this new flick...

Anonymous said...

Good stuff! I love reading other people's "31 Days of Horror" recommendations! I have not seen this one, thanks!

Bryce Wilson said...

@ AHND: Thanks man. You won't be disappointed.

@ Shawn: Hope you enjoy it.

@ LJ: I hope you'll check it out. Well worthwhile.