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The Innkeepers

It’s all set-up and very little payoff, but I mean that as a compliment. Like 2009’s “The House of the Devil” before it, director Ti West demonstrates that he has very little interest in “let-it-all-hang-out” horror and reliance on CGI. He gets at your gut by building the dread, and making you wonder. All the more potent when the creepiness becomes visual instead of just implied. It’s a highly effective “little” chiller. Producer Larry Fessenden(an extremely fine horror director in his own right)has latched onto a winner in West, and both have a healthy respect for the genre. In a world that has increasingly become slash-and-torture, their attention to subtlety and detail is commendable. Now, if only they could find a bigger audience.               Pity poor Claire and Luke(Sara Paxton and Pat Healy)—two college drop-outs wasting their young lives in dead-end jobs at the Yankee Peddler Inn. They run the desk, supply the towels(sometimes), and answer to the needs of the very few guests. The hotel, in fact, is almost completely vacant—except for a mother and young son(mom is teaching her hubby a lesson by leaving him on his own for a few days). But soon a washed-up actress checks in(Kelly McGillis, unrecognizable from her “Top Gun” days and looking far older than her actual age), and a bit later on—a decrepit old man. Also, it’s the last weekend for the Yankee Peddler Inn—it’s closing due to a lack of business. The owner is even away on a tropical vacation. So, how do Claire and Luke wile away their time when not called upon during their 12-hour shifts? Why they are amateur ghost hunters, of course—and they have a website and some ghost-detecting equipment too. Apparently, the Inn is being haunted by the ghost of a jilted bride who hung herself there years before. There are a few bumps in the night, some barely audible whispering voices and a piano that plays on its own at times—but very little else. And with the final days of the hotel looming, it’s time to get some real evidence. And fast. Attempts are made at recording some sounds in the basement—and there is some success. But also the suggestion that this is maybe due to some overactive imaginations. When actress Leanne Rease-Jones(Ms. McGillis)arrives, to the barely-contained delight of closet-fan Claire, things start getting a little more overt. Ms. Rease-Jones is now a fledgling medium, just as the hotel-worker tandem are neophyte busters of ghosts. Initially condescending and dismissive of the pair, Rease-Jones soon reluctantly becomes more involved in the various “doings” and investigations at the hotel. But it’s the asthmatic young Claire who bears the brunt of most of the activity—especially after a mysterious old-timer checks in with a request for a particular room.               A film such as this requires a patience that I feel most audiences no longer possess. Far too many will be preoccupied with waiting for something to happen. The makers of this motion picture exhibit a tremendous amount of courage in focusing the vast majority of the film’s running time on the seemingly mundane activities of the two hotel employees and its scarce occupants. Ti West worked this style to wonderful effect in his previous effort, “The House of the Devil”. That film graced my ten best of the year for 2009. The payoffs in each film are different, but travel a similar road to reach them. And I must confess that I found “The House of the Devil” to be the superior of the deuce. I don’t want to “blame” Sara Paxton for this, but I did find “Devil’s” protagonist(Jocelin Donahue)the much more compelling heroine. But maybe I’m being unfair. I so greatly admire a work of this nature that I’m reluctant to say anything negative about it at all. And I do feel that repeat viewings will be infinitely rewarding. In fact, I’ve recently been alerted to a very subtle image in the film’s final shot. So subtle, that most reportedly missed it the first time around. Include me in that group. Already I’m aching for another look.         Grade:  B+


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