You know those videos where they tell you to watch carefully because there’s a subtle, ghost-like movement that will blow your mind, and after you focus for a lengthy period of time, a frightening face suddenly appears on the screen screaming, making you jump and your coworker/friend laugh? Yeah, Ti West (House of the Devil) saw one of those too, and he decided to take that concept and make an entire film of the same ilk, even including an example of the video in the film itself. And like those videos, where you jump from being startled, laugh, and then go on with your day, Innkeepers‘ extended tense sequences interrupted by abrupt reveals aren’t so much scary as startling. And while it might cause your girlfriend (or boyfriend) to jump, and you may end up cuddling in the theater, it’s not going to have you leaving on the bathroom light or checking under the bed when you go to sleep that night.
Unsurprisingly considering West’s previous work, the story of Innkeepers is a “re-imagination” of classic horror tropes: Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are working at a rundown hotel on its final nights before closing. Luke runs a website on the supernatural events that have supposedly happened in the hotel with the predictably creepy history, and Claire is his accomplice in trying to record any paranormal phenomenon. Since the characters are more slacker than go-getter, it’s not quite clear what their long-term goals are for the website, so we’re never quite sure if they’re just trying to convince others of the existence of ghosts or that the hotel should be preserved. But we’re fortunately not the only people unclear on the characters’ objectives, which are also questioned by “call me Lee” Leanne Rease-Jones (played by Kelly McGillis of Top Gun, Witness and the recent Stake Land), a formerly famous actress-turned-psychic with a mildly bitchy manner and a taste for straight vodka. Fulfilling what every haunted-house movie needs (paranormal “expertise,” a “comeback” performance from a former star, and a tendency to say aloud what the audience is thinking), this psychic just happens to be staying at the hotel for a conference on ghostly events, along with two other guests (at different points in the film) who are only slightly less interesting (one is completely pointless, serving only as a red herring, and the other is sorely underdeveloped, but I won’t detail either for those planning to see the film).
And while I will begrudgingly admit that the movie will make you jump a few times, it’s simply not enough to make the film worth spending time and money on. The characters, while familiar, aren’t really likable, and their lack of ambition doesn’t really give the audience anything to care about. And the plot, while twisty enough to prevent you from guessing every event, is still predictable overall. Ultimately, it comes down to a personal preference. If being startled by a few loud sounds and abrupt edits is your idea of fun, Innkeepers might be just up your alley, but don’t expect the film to leave any lasting impression. But for those of us who desire something more from contemporary horror films, Innkeepers unimpressively uses horror conventions that we’ve seen plenty of times before while bringing nothing new to the table.