Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Innkeepers: The Return of the Slow Burn

Well don't worry I'm still alive. Instead of laziness however this time I'll cry THE X-FILES and the outrageous truth that I joined a gym last week. I know what you're thinking and the answer is yes---there is now a Fox Mulder poster in my bedroom. But seriously, the gym? There is a small part of me that feels like I may just be a pod person. Of course being a pod person wouldn't be so bad if we all had hair like Donald Sutherland, but who can really be that lucky?

Anyways. I'm not watching as many horror movies because I've been too busy watching trashy TV while doing the elliptical. Then when I come home I watch the X-files, go to sleep and have crazy ass dreams. I blame the duel combination of exercise and trashy TV. Or is the triple combination of exercise, trashy TV and the X-files? While we're on the subject---STOP KEEPING SCULLY AND MULDER APART THEY'RE A TEAM DAMN IT.

Today I finally pried myself away from watching the X-files and pretending to be healthy, and enjoyed the spoils of a horror movie that I had been craving to see for a while. The Innkeepers is another film made by The House of the Devil's Ti West---the penultimate king of the slow burner (second only to maybe Roman Polanski....MAYBE). Needless to say, I was more than anxious to see Ti's latest installment of terror.

Ghost stories if you are not aware, happen to be my favorite kind of horror movie. Owed mostly to the fact that I'm insanely terrified of the concept of ghosts and suspicious noises that happen in the nighttime. The Innkeepers follows the sad last days of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a historical inn going out of business due to the fact that no one wants to stay there (I blame the towels, they look pretty musty).

Claire and Luke are both Pedlar employees who are on a mission to record any sign of paranormal activity they can before the inn shuts down once and for all.

There's part of me that feels like I would have not liked this as much if I had not been familiar with The House of the Devil. Technically in some ways I didn't love The Innkeepers but I did appreciate it when all was said and done. The best part about Ti West is that he is great at flipping conventions and predictability on their heads. He has this whole thing about not falling prey to cliches or what is to be expected, and he does it artfully. I'm not just talking out of my butt, there is some great, great stuff going on in this.

Most noticeably, the subdued color palette that almost amplifies the sad state of the inn, and my favorite part, the lurking camera work.

Ti seems to borrow this technique from The Shining and it works so fantastically. If you notice while watching, the camera at many times seems to be a character all on its own. It seeks out and finds the characters rather than the other way around. It works because it suggests this watchfulness that the inn or the ghost appears to have. It is this kind of thing that makes appreciate a solid ghost film.

Many I think will not like The Innkeepers because it's almost too slow. Yes that's Ti's style but here I felt like it could have used a bit of oomph. There are technically no real scares for a long time---I want to say maybe like an hour? The thing about that is, that although there is no actual scare, that doesn't mean that tension and feelings of being scared are absent. On the contrary, another thing that Ti West is great at is building up tension that never seems to go anywhere.

Some might call this a great fault of the film but I like to think of it as kind of genius. Built up tension that never releases causes even higher levels of unease. This means that The Innkeepers should scare you without actually scaring you, if you catch my drift. And we're not necessarily talking fake outs here---I mean more of the sense that our characters could be walking around in the dark with a flashlight and our hearts could be pounding BUT no ghostly figure ever pops up out of nowhere and screams. It's all about keeping you on your toes, and it does that well.

Sure, there are some pop ups and excuse me for being brutally honest when I say they are pretty fucking scary. That ghost under the sheet? Not cool! But all in all, the tension is kept at a nice high level of unease. The other great thing about The Innkeepers is that our two main characters are hilarious and a pleasure to spend an hour and 40 minutes with.

They feel real and more importantly they act like real people. Probably my favorite part that proves this is when Claire is trying to haul the big trash bag into the dumpster. Man. If that isn't me on a Sunday morning after cleaning the cat boxes than I don't know what is. Whoops, I let my cat lady show again.

Point is. The Innkeepers is a great film. Sure it's slow and nothing really scary happens for a long, long time but that doesn't mean things aren't happening. Plus, the ending scene or two is pretty outrageously awesome if you ask me.

Very.....The Sentinel and not just because it utilizes naked old men wandering around to its advantage. While there are many that find the ending less than thrilling and maybe even disappointing---I think it's admirable because it's not some stupid twist ending of flashbacks and soft core porn. It's bleak, and it's confusing but it works. It works especially when you go back and think about everything the actress said about there being 3 ghosts and deja vu and all that. Yes, I think that the longer I ruminate, the more I come away liking The Innkeepers. Yes there could have perhaps been more story behind the ghosts and just straight up more ghosts, but isn't that life? We want to be able to say we've had a ghost encounter but usually we just end up walking around with a flashlight and getting scared by an errant bird. Such is life my friends. Such is life.

It's no House of the Devil of course, but it still stands in my mind as the kind of ghost story that can be appreciated by the right people. The ghost stories where less is more and where more realistic scares trump insanely stupid ones.


Adam said...

"It's no House of the Devil of course, but it still stands in my mind as the kind of ghost story that can be appreciated by the right people."

My thoughts exactly, though you do seem a bit higher on it than I was.

Although, it could have just been the woman SMACKING HER GUM behind me at the Brattle that killed the tension for me.

Great review that made me rethink my own impressions.

CashBailey said...

I had a great time with this. I also loved HOUSE OF THE DEVIL.

In fact, I think anyone who says they didn't like HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is clearly a mentally defective and should be roundly scorned and pelted with faeces, like in the olden days.

Andre Dumas said...

Hahah who would have though gum smackers were at THE BRATTLE Adam! i thought that place was refined.

Cash, I agree whole heartedly...bunch of no good crazies.

Franco Macabro said...

Dying to see this one, I love slow burners, and more so if they are about Supernatural Shennanigans.

Pearce said...

I liked The Innkeepers okay, but I had a couple of problems with it. For example, I thought that the lead actress was a bit too self-conscious and seemed to be "acting" too often.

But my main problem was that the movie mostly scared me through technique rather than through story or character (I am very susceptible to ghost stories). The lead character often did stupid things because the script demanded it, not because it was something a person would actually do. And I felt that the entire central mystery was unexplained - I love an unexplained mystery, but in this case it felt to me like there was no mystery to explain, as if West just came up with a bunch of scary things to happen and didn't bother coming up with a why.

So as with House of the Devil, I was quite impressed with Ti West the director and editor, but not terribly impressed with Ti West the screenwriter.

It probably didn't help that the screening I was at advertised a Q&A afterwards with West, but he didn't turn up and nobody could offer an explanation.

By the way, I hate to be That Guy, but "penultimate" actually means "second to last". I'll be really sad if there is only ever one slow-burn director to come along after West.

rogueboy0138 said...

I have to say that aside from "The Divide", "The InnKeepers" was my biggest let down so far this year. It really was a victim of the fact that the trailer showed all of the scares (and THAT problem results from the fact that there were very few scares written into the movie)/ I was very aware and very appreciative of the Shining-esque camera work. But the 2 leads were just not likable to me. He was a walls up/superiority complexed jerk, and she was just too....mousey. I understand why she played her character that way, she had to be cute and perky, but yet confused and concerned (if Meg Ryan was 30 years younger - that role was MADE for her). I always try to relate characters to my life, and her character was your buddies cute girlfriend that you tolerate because she is you buddies girl, and she IS cute, but at parties you tend to avoid having to talk to her because she is so annoying. The Inn itself was a great character, and as you stated, gorgeously decorated. I loved House of the Devil and I have liked everything he has done, up until now. It did not suck, it just did not deliver.

Spooky Sean said...

I thought it was creepy, up until the very end. Stephen King talks about the phenomenon in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre. Essentially, it is the thing behind the closed door effect.
Once you show the thing behind the door, it's never scary enough.
Your mind always creates something more terrifying than can ever be delivered. Which is why while I loved the film, and the slow burn, but was disappointed with the reveal. It's not even fair really, because no matter what West delivered, I would have been unhappy.
That being said, it was great to see characters that seemed realistic, and were likeable. Always nice to have enjoyable horror movie characters.

Unknown said...

I can't remember what show I saw talking about this movie, but it does sound interesting. And since I'm a fan of a good ghost story too, I'll definitely have to watch out for this one.

Andre Dumas said...

Sean see, that is why I think The Blair Witch project continues to scare me. I also notice a similar effect, I like to call it the nice ghost phenomena. Where suddenly we realize the ghost is actually our friend---not scary anymore i.e. Sixth Sense, The Devil's Backbone.

Spooky Sean said...

I agree with you about the Blair Witch. It's why the Slender Man youtube series (Marble Hornets...whatever it's called) continues to creep me out, because they only give you like tops, a 30 second glimpse of this creepy tall dude, and they never stay on him very long.
Granted, it's very amateurish, has way too much text for a video series, but it's creepy.
In X-Filesian fashion, they just keep piling up more questions instead of answering the existing ones.
Only problem with that is, well, once you get to the 9th season finale of The X-Files you'll understand what the issue with it is.
Essentially, only so long you can keep raising questions, before you have to try to answer them. And, in much the same way showing the thing behind the door ruins some of the suspense, so too does trying to explain that which you fear because it is unknown.
Lovecraft is perhaps the most famous author to experiment with fear of the unknown. And, as he writes in his essays, he felt he never managed to capture the horror of the unknown he felt inside of himself in his tales. For much of his life, he viewed himself as a failure.

Jess said...

I saw this movie tonight and HAD to come here to see your review about it! I absolutely LOVED this movie. This was a great ghost story which are my favorite scary movies as well. But this has a really classic feel to it. As in it brought me back to the older true horror movies about ghosts such as the Changling or Poltergeist where the thrills and chills happen and you love the jumps because if gives you that rush!

Yes this movie started out slow. But it made up for it in the end. I loved the realness it brought with the characters and how they felt about the ghost encounters. The part with the old man I genuinely screamed. I mean out loud. I loved it so much how he legit stayed in one place and then she would run and he was behind her still staying in one place with arms out to grab her. Oh man my heart couldn't take it but then loved it at the same time! That is what horror movies should always be like. When it makes ME jump and get scared then it is a great find. That classic feel that may seem silly but it is the anticipation and creepiness along with the jumps that make it great to watch! The ending I was a bit confused about.. But you are right it did work.

I really loved this movie and will definitely put it on my list of top horror movies. Loved your review also!

Unknown said...

I just watched this movie and it amazes me that after reading many many many reviews how much people totally lost the concept of the movie, it was brilliant to me! d ANYBODY beside myself see Claire's ghost in the room right before her room door slammed ? She was standing there looking out the window at everybody leaving and when she looked at the camera, THAT'S what prompted the door to close ... Missing that key detail, along with a few other details, is what allows this movie to be underrated and misunderstood.