Slow burn horror is something not too many directors find attractive when getting out there to make an impression. Nowadays, remakes trump originality and in your face brutality is the quickest way to gain attention. Both of these have their ups and downs in terms of quality and in the meantime Ti West is taking the reigns as a director showing tremendous skill at creating tension and dread without flashy effects or a chaotic pace. No, West has shown a tremendous ability to make horror that rivals old school methods by letting the setting do all the work and cranking the more in your face horror at the end and going out with a bang and THE INNKEEPERS continues that trend.
THE INNKEEPERS is a lot like West’s previous effort, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, where for the first two thirds of the film features characters wandering around their environment while letting the visuals set up all the tension but also using loud noises to break up the silence here and there. This time though the film follows two employees of a hotel on the verge if closing and during the last weekend they hope to find proof that the hotel is haunted.
Right off the bat THE INNKEEPERS has a much cleaner visual style than THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL which was purposefully made to look like an old horror throwback. West’s ghost story though, is a lot like his previous film in that it is extremely slow moving. The better thing about the slow burn style here at least is that there is more than one character to follow for the majority of the film. The scenes when there is only one person are the ones where something genuinely creepy is going down or about to go down.
My liking between THE INNKEEPERS and THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL in many ways flip flops. The beginning hour or so of DEVIL was a little draining for me before the ending just exploded with all the crazy in your face music and disturbing nature of the final moments where THE INNKEEPERS never really bored me during the first hour or more but the ending didn’t feel quite as crazy and satisfying. I enjoyed the banter between the two leads, Sara Paxton and Pat Healy just as much as I did the scenes of them either together or separately recording EVP’s in specific areas of the hotel. The two have great chemistry together which makes the buildup that much easier to sit through.
West’s composition of each scene creates a character all in its own. The camera work is great and lends to the flow and tension of the scene. Besides that though the scares in the film have immediacy to them that make some of the later scenes even creepier and unsettling. It is the creepy scares that make the film rather than the faux jump scares that come from stuff like a phone ringing at a cartoonishly loud volume or things popping out of the dark. There’s one specific scene that I found so creepy that I backed it up to watch it again- it involves Paxton’s character sitting up in bed and I won’t explain further. The way the long hallways are staged just look fantastic and the slow reveals of frightening images waiting in the shadows are phenomenal. One last standout is an intense scene with Paxton and Healy as they attempt to record EVP in the basement where they were explicitly told to never go- the tension builds masterfully and is accentuated by Healy’s reactions.
With THE INNKEEPERS Ti West is making a welcome habit of giving horror a familiar but very welcome breath of fresh air. His style of extremely patient filmmaking is something that I personally admire partially because of how effective it presents scares, but also because of the restraint it takes to not throw everything at the wall to see what sticks and forcing ideas that just don’t work. It’s not an enviable task to take the slow burn approach in a time where watered down horror is what makes the big bucks and I applaud West for carrying that torch. THE INNKEEPERS has a tremendous score to accompany the more light hearted first half of the film but also highlights the more sinister and creepy final act that isn’t quite as satisfying as THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, but still better than most modern day ghost stories.