I was fortunate enough to catch The Innkeepers at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre with writer/director/editor Ti West and the film’s co-star Pat Healy in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. Not a huge fan of Ti West’s first feature House of the Devil myself, I had low expectations for The Innkeepers, about which I honestly knew absolutely nothing when I stepped foot into the Music Box with a group of friends that night. But the film absolutely floored me. Having seen The Innkeepers for a second and third time now on the upcoming Blu-ray release from MPI, I find happily that the film’s effectiveness does not wane on multiple viewings as with so many films, horror or otherwise.
Set in the Yankee Pedlar Inn, where West and crew stayed while shooting House of the Devil, The Innkeepers follows hotel employees Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Healy) as they attempt to contact the ghost of Madeline O’Malley, said to haunt the Yankee Pedlar. With the massive Pedlar all-but-vacant during this, its fictional final weekend of operation, West sets his audience up for an atmospheric hair-raiser of the highest order. And not only does West orchestrate a tale that’s absolutely scary as all Hell (even if you’re folding laundry during the daytime it seems), but he does so in a narrative more thematically rich than that of any other horror film in recent memory.
West subtly situates the minimum wage employees of the Yankee Pedlar as ghosts themselves, wanting desperately to live but restlessly trapped as Madeline in an endless cycle of menial jobs. That the characters have apparently done little to rectify their situation as the Pedlar prepares to close reinforces this positioning of the characters. For where are they headed if not into another dead end job?
Healy’s role brings a levity to the film that, by widening the spectrum of emotions the audience experiences, ultimately makes the scares that much scarier. And Sara Paxton here, who I had seen in no starring role prior to The Innkeepers (with the exception of Superhero Movie, I suppose), is truly a revelation. I hope to see more of these two virtually-untapped talents as leads in the near future. Top Gun and Witness‘s Kelly McGillis (who also appeared recently in Stake Land) joins Paxton and Healy during their long weekend at the Pedlar, playing an actress-turned-spiritualist.
MPI Home Video’s Blu-ray and DVD release of The Innkeepers, available April 24, 2012, includes two feature-length audio commentaries and a behind-the-scenes featurette. West and 2nd Unit Director/Sound Designer Graham Reznick provide the first of the commentaries, while the second features West along with stars Paxton and Healy. I highly recommend that anyone planning to purchase the film consider buying nothing less than MPI’s beautiful Blu-ray release. As with any film, sound design plays a major part in The Innkeeper‘s overall effectiveness, but The Innkeepers is a horror film, specifically a ghost story. As such, a properly dynamic soundtrack, which can only be delivered in a theatrical setting or on loss-less Blu-ray, cannot be underestimated when seeking a truly terrifying cinematic experience. Moreover, since so much of the film relies on the viewer’s innate apprehension about what awaits the characters in the darkest spaces of the Pedlar, you really want the deepest, darkest blacks possible, which you’ll find on Blu-ray.