Last weekend, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival saw a special screening of Ti West’s newest picture “The Innkeepers.” West is the writer/director/editor who, in 2009, brought us the exquisite 1980s throw back “The House of the Devil.” “House of The Devil” (currently streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly) is a slow burner with painstaking detail to a 1980s horror aesthetic, without giving into kitschy fluff.
“The Innkeepers” is a classic ghost story, interwoven with some really good offbeat humor. Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are hotel clerks on the closing weekend of a supposedly haunted hotel. Claire becomes more and more interested in contacting the ghosts that purportedly haunt the hotel as Luke has been tracking the haunting on his hilariously bad website. The two have great chemistry on film and West’s slow, thoughtful shots add an eerie suspense, similar to “The House of the Devil,” but also do a great job capturing the humor and desperation of a dead-end, working class job. As the film builds in its intensity, enter Kelly McGillis as Leanne Rease-Jones, an ageing, washed up actress in town for a convention. Her character not only brings in focus on Claire’s aimlessness in life, but a shadow of being desperately past your prime as she drinks miniature bottles of vodka in bed. Much like “The House of the Devil,” the film takes its time to build into its dark end, and the scares are far more rewarding than the typical mindless gore in many of the big budget features coming out of Hollywood.
After the film, West joined the crowd for a Q&A session during which he had some really great insights into his filmmaking aesthetic. He said he was trying to make films that weren’t insulting to the audience and paid attention to the story and character, that he was not going for a gory scare every 15 minutes to keep the audience’s attention, but wanting to respect the intelligence of the audience. I asked if he was going to continue to work in the genre and he said he has a wolf man and a sci-fi script ready to go. That is great news, because horror is a wonderful and diverse genre and we need more auteurs like West taking it beyond a cheap formula.
“The Innkeepers” will be released on all digital VOD platforms on Dec. 30, with a theatrical release in major markets in early February 2012. I recommend checking it out in the theater if you can.