Dark Sky Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming
Writer/director Ti West knows how to make a haunted-house flick. His cult-y 2009 breakout The House of the Devil proved that to any contempo horror connoisseur. Why he chose to make maybe half a good haunted-house flick and sink it within the flabby 100 minutes of his followup, The Innkeepers, is an enigma that perhaps requires its own team of paranormal investigators.
Speaking of paranormal investigators, Claire (Sara Paxton, sporting a final-girl bob and tomboy duds) and Luke (Pat Healy) have caught the amateur ghost-hunting bug thanks to working the desk at the Yankee Pedlar [sic], a dowdy 19th-century small-town hotel days away from closing for good. With the owner out of town and all but a couple of rooms unoccupied, Claire and Luke plan to spend the Pedlar’s final weekend trying to record hard evidence of the creepy things they’ve felt and heard.
This is all well and good, but West takes more than a half-hour to get this far, much of that time suspended in slack banter that doesn’t do much for exposition or character or even basic diversion, much less suspense. The House of the Devil overwhelmed from the get-go with slow-burning unease; The Innkeepers doesn’t bother with serious unease in any form until past the point that you start looking at your watch, and even then it’s intermittent until the final reels. And while House of the Devil won fanboy hearts with its aesthetic throwbacks to ’80s schlock horror, The Innkeepers simply adopts a selection of standard horror tropes and applies them without twist, from the handy spirit medium (Kelly McGillis) to the restless lady ghost to the dark, creepy basement at the bottom of ill-lit stairs.
Plenty of these tropes still pack some scare power, and by the time Claire is racing around the Pedlar (which West eventually manages to infuse with some low-budget Overlook Hotel vibes), a few robust chills make their presence felt up your arms. But the patient aesthetic that worked so well in House of the Devil just doesn’t carry the same power in a contemporary setting—or at least not in this story. The benchmark for modern haunted-house flicks remains James Wan’s 2010 Insidious, which delivered an armload of scares in a brutally efficient manner before swamping itself with twists and gimmicks and homages. But at least it never bored, unlike The Innkeepers.