The Innkeepers (2011) We’ll Leave the Spectral Light on For You

Two years ago, when I reviewed Ti West’s House of the Devil, I gave the film a 4 out of 5 and praised the director for his period setting, even tone, and use of suspense despite my wish that a little more had been held back. Since that time, I haven't heard much from the one time savior of horror since. I intentionally missed out on Cabin Fever 2 as West was loudly displeased with the film, and unlike everyone else in the horror reviewing world, somehow I have yet to see V/H/S so I can't comment on his segment there. In one way it is promising that West hasn't started turning films out meat grinder style to cash in on the cachet of his name while he can, but I have wanted to see what West had in store for a his next, non-sequel vision. As I am always running behind on new releases, I'm just getting a chance to catch up with the answer to my wonder, West’s The Innkeepers. Combining comedy and horror effectively while still playing around in the 80s horror format that West so clearly loves, he delivers another stunningly deep entry into the horror genre. To discuss the film today, I will be dealing in some spoilers, but rest assured I will let everyone know before I go there and deploy my patented Bugg method for spoilery secrets. So come with me on a trip with Mr. West to a small Connecticut town and the Yankee Pedler, the setting for The Innkeepers.

Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are left on their own to mind the hotel for the last few nights before it goes out of business while the owner skips town for a trip to Barbados. Taking turns manning the desk around the clock, the duo keep themselves amused researching and investigating reports of the paranormal in the hotel. Luke even claims to have had a face to face encounter with Madeline O’Malley, a bride who hung herself on her honeymoon night during the 1930s. As Claire begins to see more signs of an actual haunting in the hotel, they are visited by a few last guests including Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) a former TV star turned psychic medium who admonished Claire to leave well enough alone. Not heeding the former famous person’s advice, Claire keeps getting in deeper and deeper until she is making contact with the spirits, but as forces beyond her control get too unwieldy, she has gone in way too far to get out.

In my review of House of the Devil, I said that Ti West “staked his claim in a land filled with imitators and trash merchants”, and I'm glad to see that after going down a rocky path with the Cabin Fever sequel, West got his feet under him and delivered a film that is just as strong as his last. I was saying the other day that there was a new wave of horror films like Exit Humanity and Absentia that mix dramatic elements and horror together in a meaningful way. West does them both one better here by adding comedy into the mix. The Innkeepers seamlessly slides from a comedy first half filled with antics from Claire and Luke that could have been as suited for Abbott and Costello in Hold that Ghost into a solidly serious ending doesn't compromise the character’s natural comic sensibilities while providing some serious scares. Eschewing jump scares, West once again trades in tone, and working once again with cinematographer Eliot Rockett, he creatures a visual flair that matches the mood of every scene. Also particularly effective was the score by Jeff Grace. At once harkening back to old school horror, it never became intrusive while perfectly underscoring West’s intentions. While there were a few areas House of the Devil failed in, The Innkeepers shows of a tighter, stronger vision from a more experienced director, but I do have one complaint. The ghosts just look bad. I don't know whose idea it was to portray the dead bride in a gruesome, gory 80s kind of way, but it just felt incongruous to the rest of the film.

This is especially true when it comes to the acting in The Innkeepers. Sara Paxton, who I was not familiar with at all, makes for an engaging main character as Claire. As a viewer, I both wanted to comfort her and slap her at different occasions. The choices she makes are real, and there is depth to her character that I discuss further in the spoilers section. She was also unlike many other horror females given lead roles these days. Not traditionally pretty (though I found her awful cute), Paxton is a goofy, nerdy type of girl. You know, the type of girl that most of us actually know. The same can be said of Pat Healy and Luke. There was nothing about him from his snarky attitude to his awful faux hawk that rang untrue. Kelly McGillis impresses in her few scenes, but, well, I'll just say that she’s changed quite a bit since Top Gun. Those three are really the only characters in the film, but I would like to mention the appearance of Lena Dunham, from HBO’s insufferable Girls, as an equally insufferable barista in The Innkeepers.

Before I get into spoiler territory, let me wrap this whole thing up, The Innkeepers is going to get the highest rating I have given a movie this year 4.5 out of 5. I wish that it could have had a few minor rough edges taken away so that it could have gotten up to 5, but there were still things that bothered me about the film. For all the things that bothered me, I can think of ten others that I loved. The main thing The Innkeepers did was made me think, and generally, when horror fare is thought provoking, the messages are more often than not spoon fed to the audience. That’s not so with The Innkeepers, and I think the there could easily be dozens of interpretations for what West was saying with this film. It’s a film I will watch again, and I would love to discuss with others. I rarely laud anyone as being a “major talent” or “the next big thing”, but Ti West actually deserves both of those accolades. If you haven't caught up with this one, then don't be like me and wait to check it out, check in and enjoy your stay with The Innkeepers.

So below you will find the SPOILER SECTION. DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS. What you will see a blank, but there are words there. To read the spoiler portion of the review just select the text below with your mouse and magically the words will shine through. Mobile users should see the text if they select all. Skip on down to the bottom for the rating and a trailer if spoilers are not for you!

What I really want to talk about with The Innkeepers is about the very meaning of the film, or at least what I took from it, and I can’t see a way to do it without spoilers. The very title itself seems reflective of the two main characters. Luke is clearly keeping in his feelings for Claire, using his knowledge of the “supernatural” to impress her, but Claire is the more guarded of the two keeping everything inside she lacks social graces and confidence needed to function beyond her current job. The only thing that she dares to reach out for is the dead. I think this is because she is searching so hard for a connection in this world, but being awkward, easily hurt, and intimidated by life as Claire is, she’s too scared of people so she looks for someone she can connect to in the beyond. The tragic tale of a bride killing herself is both anti-romantic and intriguing to someone like Claire whose life seems to be dominated by sadness. Every character in this movie is trying to keep something in, from the faded actress downing her regrets in drink to the angry mom who looks to defend her son’s innocence at all costs. The only character that is different is the elderly man who checks in, the husband of Ms. O’Malley, who kills himself. After a lifetime of keeping that weight inside of himself, he had no more to give. 

Now there is one other spoilery thing that I want to talk about, and that is Claire’s mind. In the lonely start she was in, getting more and more agitated about the presence of the supernatural, at many times in the film it seems like it could all be the figment of her imagination. While the EVP recordings surely exist because Luke heard them, he never sees anything, and in fact the one time Claire claims the zombie bride is behind him, we never see proof of such. Her demise is brought on by her own panic and health condition, and it can surely be read that she got so anxious; scaring herself about ghosts she was imagining that she brought it all on herself. This might also explain the makeup choice for the ghosts. They don’t look like what we would think of as “real”, but rather more like something someone who has seen too many zombie movies would dream up. That’s why I thought it was wise for West to include the final moment of the film which can still lead to speculation but somewhat assures the audience that they weren’t watching the ravings of a mad woman. 

Bugg Rating 


  1. Hm. Interesting theory, and you make a really strong case for the film. I was with it for the first half but eventually found myself growing bored, then found the ending to be a huge letdown. I want to revisit it in a few years and see if I feel differently.

    Also, WTF moment for me: the mom guest was played by Gina from Sesame Street!

  2. Interesting theories about the film, LB. I didn't really chime in with my thoughts too much on the "best horror of the year" facebook thread I started, but I absolutely adore INNKEEPERS. I agree with what other people said regarding being turned off by the direction the movie goes in the end, or at least the execution of it, but that wasn't enough to spoil the rest of the movie. For me, I just loved the characters, especially Sara Paxton's. I used to work the overnight shift at a couple of hotels that were supposedly haunted, and the relationship between the two leads reminded me of all the times I'd bug whoever would be working the front desk and just starting conversations about anything and everything. Your review will definitely allow me to look at it differently the next time I watch it. Good job.


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