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A Simultaneously Old-Fashioned and Tongue-in-Cheek Deconstruction
Welcome to the Yankee Pedlar Inn, current residency: five. Living, that is. Tasked with minding the 100-year-old establishment the weekend prior to it shutting its doors for good, employees Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) find that besides the lone, mysterious woman (Kelly McGillis) and mother/son duo that populate the creaky old domicile, something more sinister lurks.
From 31-year-old director Ti West, who in 2010 directed the wonderfully retro The House of the Devil, comes The Innkeepers, a simultaneously old-fashioned (and unabashedly so) and tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of overused genre clichés such as "the boo moment." But that isn't to say The Innkeepers doesn't embrace these staples with equal affection, and eventually utilizes them wonderfully (and with ample flair) as things escalate toward the chilling final act.
What initially distinguishes this supernatural thriller from others of its kind is that the first third of the film offers barely a hint that this is a horror movie. Sure, nobody would be mistaken that this wasn't a fright flick, but the debut act is more concerned with the character development of Claire and Luke and showing the simply the mundane nature of running a practically (excuse the wording) dead business. These scenes are punctuated with silver-tongued dialogue that would make Sorkin or Tarantino smile. Not to say that West's script is on the same level, but it is certainly akin to that style and speed of exchange.
This is essentially a three-man show (though to be more accurate a two- woman and one-man show) led by the wonderful Paxton. She exudes a down-to-earth sexiness and plays Claire as a bit of an oddball but with a magnetic spark, a performance that couldn't have been more different than her work in last fall's Shark Night 3D. This proves she is a legitimate talent to watch and can hold her own when she is only required to emote through silence.
Healy is also great as Luke, who is even more of a nerdy outcast than his co-worker. He passes his time on the graveyard shift by watching porn and working on his paranormal-themed website. He has a great, easy chemistry with Paxton throughout.
The last remaining piece of the character trifecta comes from McGillis' Leanne, a former television star who has since turned to the profession of medium. She goes great work as more complex "Crazy Ralph" character though her inclusion at all lacks any real necessity, only to point out the ominous.
The Innkeepers has clever, underlying elements from the "are they crazy or not?" horror movie structure, and though there is never a doubt of certain characters' sanity, questions are certainly posed as to the truths behind what transpired. West's flick also has a clever foil to the normally dopey (and often infuriating) cliché of what I shall now refer to as the "door paradox": when stuff goes poltergeist-style crazy, use it! You see these characters unwillingly provoke the dark history of the inn, determined to capture some proof of paranormal infestation before it closes for good. The bumps in the night only spur them further (especially Claire) right into the finale, which finds her way over her pretty blond head.
A lack of gore and a very deliberate pace may dissuade those accustomed to the quick-cut, bloody flashiness of mainstream offerings, but this movie again proves ample talent exists in indie circles. Overall very humorous as its pokes and prods at the genre, there is a sense of solemn irony as the credits role. It is not a depressing finale, nor is it a disturbing one; I would simply peg it as especially fitting. A great score and a definite '70s vibe (far from as intentionally apparent as it was in The House of the Devil, which was in fact set in the 1970s) allows The Innkeepers to rise above recent horror offerings. At the very least, this is a passionate and noteworthy salute to the origins of the modern-day horror flick.
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