Ti West is an indie writer-director-editor whose knowledgeable affection for the horror genre is easy to admire. On the other hand, he is also a journeyman film-maker about whom it is hard to get overly excited. This is partly because his old fashioned approach to supernatural scares relies on slow-burning subtleties rather than visceral excesses and special effects, and partly because he has never quite fulfilled the promise evident in his début feature, The Roost (2005). The Innkeepers is a case in point, relying as it does on low-key frights and creepy atmospherics, but with no real sense of progression from his previous two films.
As the venerable Yankee Pedlar Inn prepares to close it doors, two twentysomething employees – asthmatic college drop-out Claire (Sarah Paxton) and nerdy underachiever Luke (Pat Healy) – while away one final weekend. Their only guests are an angry mother hiding from her violent husband, her young son and an ex-actress turned professional medium, Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis). Mostly, the pair dabble in half-serious ghost-hunting: the hotel is allegedly haunted by abandoned 19 th century bride Madeline O’Malley, who hung herself in the basement after her husband bailed out on their honeymoon stay. Claire’s attempts to record disturbing nocturnal sounds prove fuzzy and inconclusive, but Leanne’s attempts to contact Madeline’s unquiet spirit seems more promising.
The Innkeepers is a step backwards after West’s quietly unsettling but critically over-praised movie, The House of the Devil (2009). Although Sara Paxton gets to show more acting chops here than she did in either the re-make of The Last House on the Left or Shark Night 3D, her scenes with Kelly McGillis’s drink-sodden medium never achieve the same engaging, naturalistic feel as those with Pat Healy. McGillis’s role is underwritten and her character comes over as tight-arsed and po-faced. Director Ti West is living on borrowed time, as the good will deservedly garnered from his previous low-budget movies gradually ebbs away.