Film Review: The Innkeepers

Two slackers becalmed in dead-end jobs at a rambling, supposedly haunted Connecticut inn decide to play ghost hunter in this shaggy-dog story with a sharp little sting in its tail.

After more than 100 years, Connecticut's Yankee Pedlar Inn is going out of business, and the current owner cares so little he's left a pair of kids in their 20s, asthmatic Claire (Sara Paxton) and smart-ass Luke (Pat Healy), to lock the doors and turn off the lights. Not that the Inn's final weekend looks particularly challenging: The only guests are desperate housewife Gayle (Alison Bartlett) and her small son (Jake Schleuter), and middle-aged, onetime TV star Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), whose sitcom "Like Mother, Like Son" was Claire's favorite childhood show.

All in all, pretty depressing. But Luke and Claire have a little secret: They're both deeply into the Yankee Pedlar's quaintly scary history, especially the story of jilted bride Madeline O'Malley, who checked into the inn on her wedding day and never left—the spirits of suicides are like that, as any paranormal-phenomena geek will tell you. Luke has put together a nice little website, and if he and Claire can just come up with some proof that the Yankee Pedlar really is haunted—one creepy photo, a few seconds of inexplicable audio—he figures they could make some money. Maybe not a lot of money, but anything has to be better than what they're paid to run extra towels up and down the 19th-century stairs and listening to high-strung losers moan about their miserable, boring lives.

Anyone can see where this is going, and plenty of people will find the way The Innkeepers gets there frustrating: Writer/editor/director Ti West, whose credits include the micro-budget features The Roost (2005) and House of the Devil (2009), isn't about over-the-top gore, gratuitous nudity (when Claire takes a shower, the camera stays above the shoulders) or cheap ’n’ dirty shocks. The Innkeepers is all about the sly, low-key mind-freak, full of eye-level long-shots down empty corridors suffocated by busy paneling, fussy wallpaper and heavily patterned rugs (The Shining, anyone?); slow walks through shadowy dining- and sitting rooms scored with bursts of static and a handful of short, sharp shocks that leave you wanting more.

The age of horror movies that suggested more than they showed is so long gone that few of today's genre filmmakers grew up understanding how profoundly unsettling a stray sound or vaguely suggestive shadow can be. West gets it, and in a perfect world genre fans would all have the chance to see his movies in theatres, where there's no pausing to answer the phone, get a snack or answer that urgent e-mail. In this world, anyone who can catch The Innkeepers during its limited theatrical release should. Everyone else should gather some friends, lower the lights and fire up the DVD player: A good campfire story doesn't need flickering firelight to cast its spell.