THE INNKEEPERS – Blu-ray review

Haunted hotel. Raise your hand if you immediately think of “The Shining.” There’s a good chance that after viewing “The Innkeepers,” that may change.

“The Innkeepers” is director Ti West’s chilling and very satisfying follow-up to his 2009 effort, “The House of the Devil”, a crafty, promising throwback to 70’s style horror. He comes at the idea of a haunted inn with an unexpected subtlety, and one that is no less effective and memorable than that other, bigger hotel movie.

Sara Paxton and Pat Healy star as Claire and Luke, the last two employees of a faded New England inn, on the last weekend before the hotel closes for good.  The two are amateur ghost-chasers, and are determined to spend the last days in the Yankee Pedlar Inn confirming the rumors of a ghost, long ago murdered on the premises. Kelly McGillis plays Leanne, one of the last guests in the inn, a former famous actress now turned psychic and spiritual advisor, who aids Claire in her quest to discover the real story.

This is smart, minimalist horror, with little blood or gore, only three major characters and a stripped down visual approach to the material.  So many horror movies rely solely on the “cat-in-the-closet” jump for their scares. Editor, writer and director West has a different, more rewarding game in mind, playing with and slyly subverting horror conventions such as these, and proving himself a master of sustained mood and gradually ratcheting tension.

Cinematographer Eliot Rockett uses the depth of the larger rooms and the long corridors to heighten the characters’ relative isolation and ‘smallness’ against the larger threat. The filmmakers also utilize unsettling camera angles, and the takes are sustained, edited and paced with effective restraint and with an eye for composition. Sound design by Graham Reznick adds an additional layer of creepy, and helps drive the narrative in an unusually striking way.

The hotel itself, a real functioning hotel in Torrington, Conneticut, is an integral part of the story and the vibe, and West himself says on the commentary track that the movie would have been impossible without this particular hotel as the set. Some of the wallpaper is pretty horrifying all by itself.

The low-key performances are sympathetic and relatable. Claire and Luke have a sweet, friendly-flirty relationship, and Leanne’s reluctant assistance provides a flinty contrast for Claire’s well-meaning, hesitant ghost hunting. Comedian Lena Dunham has a nice cameo as a talkative barista. This is suspense grounded in real people that you care about, in a place with texture and atmosphere, making the slowly rising danger all the more involving.

West has fun with a few red herrings in the form of minor characters and creative diversions, but the sense of humor somehow plays into the tension, rather than undercutting it.

Video:
“The Innkeepers” is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. Close-ups look great, and the depth of composition, so important to the feel of place, is clear and detailed. The black/light contrast is very appropriate, especially in the basement sequences. There is an English SDH subtitle track.

Audio:
The audio track is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround. The clever, highly detailed audio design complements the action on screen, and is well-spaced in the speakers. Other than the commentary tracks, there are no audio options in the set-up menu

Extras:

  • Original theatrical trailer
  • “The Innkeepers: Behind The Scenes” – short but relatively interesting making-of doc.
  • A genial, jokey commentary track with West, and actors Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, discussing any numbers of things — incidents during filming, inspirations, the number of bologna sandwiches they ate during a particular take, etc.
  • A second, still informative but more business-like commentary track with West, producers Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden, and sound designer Graham Reznick.

Parting thoughts:
“The Innkeepers” plays the notes of an old-fashioned ghost story with keen intelligence and restrained visual style, and builds steadily to a memorable, blood-curdling finish.

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