Friday, May 25, 2012

No Vacancy

As you can probably imagine, conversations at my day job often revolve around movies. Usually it's my opinion about some new release (everybody was asking me about The Avengers after opening weekend) that people are inquiring, and occasionally word passes along about the latest in movie news, for instance Paramount's recently deciding to delay the release of potential summer blockbuster GI Joe: Retaliation to March (for 3D conversion, no less). But occasionally I get asked about something I DON'T know, usually a film that either was from so long ago I don't even realize it exists, or is so small that I missed it completely. In the case of The Innkeepers, the story was a little different. Released to theaters February 3'rd (the same weekend as Chronicle and The Woman in Black), the low-budget indie brought itself to my attention thanks to interested parties and even a brief, positive mention in the free Boston Metro tabloid. However, I obviously never saw it on the big screen, and my interest quickly waned as the movie faded into obscurity. I don't get much time or opportunity to rent movies these days, but with no chances to get to the theater since The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on Tuesday (and with nothing I actually wanted to see playing until this weekend), I checked out what Redbox had on tap. Though my first option was the Mark Wahlberg crime drama Collateral (people had been recommending it), The Innkeepers became an immediate replacement, and I decided to see what all the hubbub had been about.

Nope, no ghosts up here, nuh uh.
Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are part-time workers at the run-down Yankee Pedlar Inn. It's the hotel's final weekend of operation, and with only a few guests in the old building it's easy to see why. The pair are both fans of all things paranormal, and are obsessed with the legend of the Yankee Pedlar, which says that Madeline O'Malley hung herself over a lost love and has haunted the hotel since her death. With the boss away, Claire and Luke see this as their last chance to prove that the haunting is real, and the two are entirely focused on ferreting out the spirit. However, they should be careful for what they wish, as this final weekend turns into something neither of them ever expected, or will ever forget.

Hero to prepubescent boys everywhere.
Unfortunately for modern horror fans, the first three quarters of The Innkeepers consists of endless setup, as every tiny detail is set in place for either the big finale or yet another setup scene. Scares are almost non-existent, as the film instead feeds us a steady supply of information so that we know what is going on, with some of that information two or three times. In fact, some details are reinforced so much that it is impossible to not guess what will ultimately happen, and that's a shame since a bit of surprise wouldn't have hurt. It's also strange; we learn plenty of the Yankee Pedlar and old Madeline O'Malley, but we never learn any backstory of the film's namesakes. We know Claire didn't graduate college, but we don't know why, and we have no clue how the pair got themselves interested in the supernatural. When the final act finally comes around and stuff actually starts HAPPENING, it's subverted by the fact that we just don't care anymore. Claire and Luke don't matter to us, and we could give a damn whether or not they lose their lives.

"No, no, continue... I'm just going to rest my eyes now..."
The acting itself is also a mixed bag, though it was nice to notice a then-unknown Lena Dunham (of HBO's Girls) making a small cameo. That in itself makes the movie far more interesting, though her small scene is only a small part of the movie's endless setup process. The main actors are far less savory, and featuring a former Golden Globe nominee does little to raise their overall ability to sell the half-baked story. Sara Paxton herself is not bad as leading lady Claire. Paxton plays to the type of young woman I think of as "Elmo's Women": stiff-backed, mousy and quiet, with a boy's haircut and arms that never swing. Elmo's Women get exited about one (and ONLY one!) thing, to the point of near-insanity, and often get frustrated that Elmo and others aren't as crazed about it as they are. Paxton does a great job playing that part, though whether it's because the actress is actually LIKE that or just really talented is unknown this early in her career. Kelly McGillis was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in the 1985 Harrison Ford movie Witness, but she brings nothing to the role of a veteran actress turned psychic medium. Pat Healy is better than most typical horror actors, but not nearly enough to distinguish himself from the rest of the genre.

"I used to BE somebody, dammit!"
These issues can all be laid on the shoulders of director Ti West, who is known in horror circles but little elsewhere. It's odd that he is so recognized in the genre, as watching The Innkeepers had me convinced that he didn't have a clue what he was doing. While there were moments of tension throughout the movie, and the final act did a wonderful job of putting it all together, West couldn't make more than a few scenes actually worth watching, and the screenplay (also written by West) was full of holes, making the whole thing feel unfinished. And just for the record, I don't think a horror film has to be gory to be scary, as some of the best horror films in recent years (Insidious and The Woman in Black, especially) did an amazing job building tension without much in the way of visceral bloodshed. That West can't do the same with similar tools doesn't make him look like all that good a filmmaker, although I'll reserve judgment if anyone out there can recommend a good movie by the man.

Boy, you are NOT pretty, are you?
There's little worse than a horror film that fails to scare, and it's only thanks to the little things that the film does well (and its setting in the real life Yankee Pedler, to boot) that the whole thing doesn't feel like a complete waste of time. If the script had been better, if the director had picked up the pace, if so much more had HAPPENED, this might have been worth the rental. If you're looking for a scary movie, you'd best skip this flop and wait for something better to come along. I know that's what I'll be telling my co-workers the next time I'm in.

1 comment:

Joanna said...

I feel the same way!! I was so disappointed in this movie. It had so much potential but just fizzled.