For its first 45 minutes or so, The Innkeepers (directed and writtten by Ti West) plays like the Seinfeld of horror movies.
Which is to say, nothing much happens — forcing us to turn our attention to the quirky characters populating the film, as opposed to any sort of actual otherworldly apparitions.
Chief among the corporeal players are Luke (Pat Healy) and Claire (Sara Paxton), a pair of twenty-something college dropouts and would-be paranormal investigators. They also happen to be the resident caretakers of the locus of haunting: an historic east coast hotel called The Yankee Pedlar. Our two slacker staffers are presiding over the final days of operation of the old inn before it closes its doors forever.
Nerdy haunting-blogger Luke professes to have actually seen the establishment’s most famous ghost, Madeline O’Malley — aka The Widow — twice. Unfortunately, on both occasions he was alone and without his camera.
Manic, asthmatic, anorexic Claire envies her fellow employee’s close encounters of the spiritual kind, and is determined to make contact with the unquiet spirit before this doorway to another world begins its new life as a pile of rubble. When Luke retires to his room for the night, Claire mans the preternaturally quiet front desk, alert for any sign of spooks — EVP recorder and microphone at the ready…
One of the hotel’s few remaining paying guests is former television actress Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), in town for a fan convention. She’s a prickly old bird who prefers keeping to her room — at least as long as the contents of the mini-bar hold out. It’s not until Claire’s first genuine paranormal encounter that we discover there’s more to this over-the-hill soap star than meets the eye.
The Innkeepers is one of those crafty, edgy, atmospheric films that develops slowly, then pulls the trigger on terror only after we’ve been lulled into a sense of complacency. There are foreshadowings of danger and doom involving shackled exits and ominous portents, and a curiously disquieting episode involving an elderly gentleman who checks into the hotel on its final night of operation, insisting to be put up in a particular room on the shuttered third floor.
Lovers of slow-boiling psychological horror — and Schlitz drinkers — will find The Innkeepers to be an offbeat treat.
Just one thing, though: don’t go into the cellar.
The Innkeepers opens tomorrow, exclusively at the Texas Theatre. Actor Pat Healy will participate in a Q&A session via Skype following the 8:00 p.m. screening on Saturday, February 4.