Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #233
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 8 June 2012 (UK)
Sub-Genre: Haunted House
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Ti West
Producers: Ti West, Peter Phok, Derek Curl, Larry Fessenden
Screenplay: Ti West
Special Effects: Brian Spears
Visual Effects: John C. Loughlin
Cinematography: Eliot Rockett
Score: Jeff Grace
Editing: Ti West
Studios: Dark Sky Films, Glass Eye Pix
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Stars: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Alison Bartlett, Jake Ryan, Kelly McGillis, Lena Dunham, Brenda Cooney, George Riddle, John Speredakos
Suggested Audio Candy
Jeff Grace “The House of the Devil”
For the past few years James Wan and associates have held the monopoly with regards to things that go bump in the night. Films such as Insidious, The Conjuring and Sinister have made a very tidy profit from scaring audiences witless and have raised the bar unrealistically high for any other film-makers to hope to emulate. Even the great John Carpenter struggled to make an impact with The Ward falling short of the apex consistently reached by Blumhouse Productions. So what hope is there for the rest of us if undisputed horror sovereignty comes up short? In that situation it is left up to promising young auteurs such as Ti West to pad out the admittedly bankable genre.
West had already been responsible for The House of the Devil, that rare modern creature which walked away with a perfect score from me. He proved there how adept he is at setting an ominous mood and had the creative tools at his disposal to spread that consternation across an entire full-length feature. I make no secret that I believe it to be the most promising debut for many a moon and, should I be asked what the pinnacle of post-millennia horror is, then it will invariably be the words The House of the Devil which escape my lips every time. He also brought us Cabin Fever 2 in the interim although a brief tête-à-tête with West about this project after appraising the final product revealed that his involvement with this was frustratingly cut short by unscrupulous meddling suits who didn’t share his vision.
The Innkeepers is West through and through. This is the true follow up to his satanic verse and his style runs right through its core like a stick of rock. Certain traits synonymous to his work are here in abundance, most notable being his effortless ability of capturing our attention and steadily draining the air from our lungs with a consistency rarely seen nowadays. Some may argue that the perfect score I awarded House of The Devil was mere over-compensation for the fact that I had spent the last twenty years in a state of despair over horror’s repeated poor handling and my rejoinder to that fair point would be swift and decisive. What made that so titular was his aptitude in transporting us back to a completely different epoch. Had it been released in 1980 then it may well have garnered less than the 10 that it warranted. Regardless of that, the fact remains, that as a hark back to yesteryear it simply didn’t place a single foot wrong.
Ordinarily a relative newcomer to the scene would be forgiven for peaking too soon and never again repeating such an audacious feat. West is a different breed from most however, evidently a huge aficionado, he also has a rather unique set of tools at his disposal, enough to make a phone conversation with Liam Neeson seem like little more than a nuisance call. There are few professionals with the organic endowment this man possesses and fewer still capable of gifting us a horror film worthy of sitting alongside The Shining and other suchlike horror high points of yesteryear. Still, it is rather a lot of burden for his young shoulders and that is why comparisons with House of The Devil are not applicable here. The Innkeepers is best experienced under its exclusive terms as a piece of art in its own right rather than subjecting it to the acid test.
If you need any indication of his ambition then the 101 minute running time should act as a fairly decent reminder. He shows patience in his build up and still manages to hold our attention unerringly throughout every single scene. The reason for this is simple, he undertakes the trifecta of writing, directing and editing The Innkeepers and his treatment is chock full of meaningful dialogue and playful interaction. The lad can write and, by keeping the cast list slender, he affords us ample time with each protagonist in a number of relatable scenarios which showcase his writing skills exquisitely. It is very rare that a line of dialogue sounds out-of-place, his fleshed-out characters warrant our empathy and that keeps us invested through its unhurried first act and right up to its final unspooling.
If his characters are well written then the architecture of his interiors should also be receiving a credit. There are long desolate hallways aplenty and The Yankee Peddler Inn is certainly expansive although he keeps things insular by only ever showing it in bite-sized chunks, instead honing in on the protagonists labors of love as they unwittingly take that overnight stay. The employees in question are Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), a pair of affable part-timers who are responsible for the day-to-day running of the hotel in its final days before imminent closure. There is legend in these here walls and they are desperate to reveal some paranormal activity as it begins to wind down.
Be careful what you wish for as the last house in the West played home to the devil and he’s clearly got many more skeletons rattling around in the multitude of closets this inn possesses. It is how he achieves the willies which is most admirable as he does it not by pounding us with constant knee-jerk scares and overused imagery but instead by manipulating the unique silence of this grand locale. Silence, as we’re all aware, can be deafening and I could hardly hear myself think for the quietude whilst immersed in this.
Paxton and Healy are both excellent as the pair on this ominous graveyard shift. Claire bounds around like an over-excitable puppy while her exuberance is tempered by the more sardonic Luke who brings logic and practicality to the table. Together the best compliment that I can garner is to mention that, had no ghosts turned up, I would have been fine with that. Rest assured however, ghosts do turn up. When this transpires we are granted access to West’s meanness of spirit and affinity for stark imagery and visceral splatter. The Innkeepers couldn’t be farther from a splatterfest although, just as he did so masterfully before, his violence punctuates rather than pummels and the effect is that much more devastating as a result.
Another huge plus is his casting of Kelly McGillis as alcoholic psychic and former TV personality Leanne Rease-Jones. McGillis had already impressed me in Stake Land and here is given more space to breathe and gristle to chew on. She does so like the dab hand that she is and I hope this is the emergence of a new trend for her. Back then when struggling to convince Tom Cruise to take the path more flowery in homoerotic flag bearer Top Gun, she was just about the hottest female on the circuit but she has matured with grace and poise, two things which she brings effortlessly to her character. Should they ever remake Friday the 13th, and let’s forget they already have shall we, then she would be a shoe-in for Pamela Voorhees. If that sounds like a back-handed compliment then I assure you, you couldn’t be farther from accurate.
Sealing the deal was always going to be a tough ask, particularly with a piece of work like this. West does admirably and the trick up his sleeve is his blackest heart. Whilst initially jovial and spiked with congenial audio early on, it ends in a much darker place. It is difficult to project where The Innkeepers will stand in the grander scheme of things. Any slightness on its part is counter-balanced by a multifaceted approach to film-making which is a breath of country air in a previously stagnated industry. If The House of the Devil was his Halloween then this is his Fog, which leaves me salivating over the prospect of being presented his Thing.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Dread Factor: 4/5
For the Dread Heads: Any humor and humanity only acts to sideline us to what is really going down and West chooses against a sensationalist approach in favor of cranking the gears slowly. Perhaps Claire’s lack of consistently discernible dread lessens the impact when the jolts come just a little, especially given the fact that it is Luke who appears more jumpy, but the final act is executed with such deftness that it merely becomes the picking of nits. For the most part this is a masterclass in how to immerse your addressee in something screaming portentous.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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