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SXSW Movie Review: ‘The Innkeepers’

March 12, 2011
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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Ti West struck gold with horror fans when House of the Devil came out in 2009. Devil was a fitting throwback to the horror films of the ’80s, and West proved to be a master at creating nail-biting tension and dread, culminating in a doozy of a finale.

West debuted his eagerly anticipated new thriller The Innkeepers at SXSW on Saturday night at a sold-out Paramount theater.  If my lack of fingernails are any indication, he’s struck gold once again.  I was ready to crawl out of my seat by the end of the movie, and judging by the rest of the audience’s shrieks and gasps, the feeling was collectively mutual.

The Innkeepers tells the tale of a spooky old inn that is in its final season of business before getting razed for development. Most of the rooms have already been retired, and only one floor  is available to guests in the final weeks.

Much of the staff has left the premises, leaving Claire ( Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) to hold the fort down.  Luke is convinced that there is a ghost haunting the grounds.  As legend has it, a lovesick woman hung herself when her fiance left her on their wedding night.

He owns some amateur ghost-hunting equipment and maintains a website with videos and photos he has captured at the inn.  He enlists Claire to help him with recording activity at night.

The inn only has a handful of occupants including an eccentric ex-actress turned new age psychic (played by Kelly McGillis).  She warns that there are things best not visited lurking in the basement.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a horror movie if the protagonists actually took heed of a reasonable warning.

West sets you at ease by injecting a lot of humor in the interactions between Luke and Claire. This is a nice contrast to the primarily somber tone set by House of the Devil, and makes this film unique in style.  Since you are nice and relaxed, the scares are all the more frightening when they arrive.

The Innkeepers is maddening slow to get to the action, but holy crap is it worth it. The final 20 minutes are unbearably tense, and remind us why Ti West is one to watch.  His ability to scare without blood and guts, but with sheer psychological terror, is impressive.

The film is well cast; Paxton (you may recognize her from Last House on the Left) is plucky and strong,  and Healy is affable and goofy as her fellow front-desk attendant.

The Innkeepers is a nifty piece of filmmaking that is sure to be celebrated as a creepy as hell haunted house tale.

Rating 4/5

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