Monday, July 9, 2012

Master of the Pedlar's Inn

Oh fiddlesticks. I really wanted to like The Innkeepers. Actually, based on my adoration for Ti West's House of the Devil and my genuine belief that he was responsible for the good parts of the not really that good Cabin Fever 2, I wanted to LOVE The Innkeepers.


Quick Plot: The Yankee Pedlar Inn is a quaint little historical hotel about to close its doors forever. On its last weekend in business, clerks Claire (Last House On the Left's Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) decide to pull some Ghosthunters action and see if they can find any genuine evidence of its supposed supernatural guests. Along the way, they kinda sorta help out the natural guests: an aggravated single mom with her young son, a mysterious old man, and a former sitcom star (Stakeland’s Kelly McGillis).

What follows is some chipper banter between Claire and the nerdy Luke, followed ever so slowly by the confirmation that yes indeed, there’s a ghost afoot at the Pedlar Inn. Much like House of the Devil, the film’s style is to charm us with its lead before subjecting her to all sorts of scary movie hijinks…at the last possible minute.

I hate being this kind of person when discussing film, but here goes:

The Innkeepers is no House of the Devil.

Now in most worlds, this would be more than fine. No director should spend his or her career making the same film over and over again (helLO Tim Burton), but the issue is that The Innkeepers feels like it’s trying so hard to BE The House of the Devil with a softer edge. It’s not just the concept of the film being a throwback to late ‘70s genre style; it’s that the pacing and characterization feel directly cut from the same fabric, just dyed a different color or some other analogous comment. There’s even a Greta Gerwig stand-in (Lena Girls Dunham as a chatty barista) tossed in for comic relief.

So logic would dictate that if you liked The House of the Devil, you’ll like The Innkeepers…but I didn’t. I didn’t because it wasn’t ever dark enough to be genuinely scary, nor could it ever find its solid footing as comedy. The climax happens in 10 minutes (I know—just like HotD) but for me, it simply did nothing.

As an hour-long Masters of Horror episode, The Innkeepers would have worked great. Perhaps it will age well in ten years as a sort of underrated good genre film that people expected the wrong thing from the first time around. I won’t rule that out. I just also have no desire to rewatch it soon and make that decision.

High Notes
Much like Jocelin Donahue’s one-woman show in House of the Devil, Sara Paxton finds the perfect notes to make Claire likable, cute, and sympathetic

You know how annoyed I get when horror films make obvious and forced homage to older classics? (i.e., look at how I named my characters Romero and Carpenter!). Hence my utter glee when Luke informs Claire that he took Room 216 and she responds “Of course.” Now anyone with a passing familiarity to The Shining will deduce Room 216 gives a comfortable closeness to Room 217 and can get the joke without another word of explanation. THIS is how you honor a past film

Low Notes
The utter disappointment I felt watching something mediocre and unambitious from a director that I know can do better

Lessons Learned
Saying I love you on IM is like saying it during sex

Psychic conventions are generally held in small Pennsylvanian towns

Never skimp on bread. You’ll always regret it

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa????? Moment of Me Watching the Film
I was eager to explore IMDB because I thought the little boy was played by the same child actors as Lysa Aryan’s 6-year-old-and-still-happy-to-be-breastfed son on Game of Thrones. Sadly, he is not, but GUESS WHAT? The character’s mother? Gina from the early ‘90s era Sesame Street. I have no idea how to feel about that, other than glad she’s not breast-feeding her too-old son

It’s easy to blame my disappointment with The Innkeepers on expectation. But if Ti West was worried that people would be disappointed with Not The House of the Devil, then why make a film that carries so much of The House of the Devil into every frame? Anyway, this is, as you would expect, decently made, affectionately scored, and well-acted. It just did not work for me in the least. I’d love to hear people tell me I’m wrong, so if there’s something I didn’t get, go head and give it to me. Especially if it’s loaded with cheese. I’m really hungry.


  1. This was my exact reaction, as well, and I'm kind of glad to see it here since I don't recall seeing much negative reactions to it. "House of the Devil" is always the first title that comes to my mind as a really good horror movie of recent years. I guess, for me, HOTD, had enough subtle and not-so-subtle things to let you know something weird was going on to hold my interest. Innkeepers just mainly felt like spending the day at work with some quirky, nerdy types that had a ghost thrown in abruptly at the end. Oh well, at this point, I'd still be enthused to see whatever new films Ti West comes out with.

  2. (Sigh of relief.) So glad I'm not alone! I think West just fell in love with his location and assumed his audience would too. But the problem is, the movie around it just isn't that interesting, especially since the climax is so meh. I'm still curious to see what he'll do next, as I maintain he's definitely one of the up and comers with great movies still ahead of him. This was just so mediocre.

  3. Thing I have been noticing is people who praise House Of The Devil usually feel disappointed with this one. People who didn't care for HOTD a whole lot did like this one.

  4. Interesting. It surprises me that HOTD haters would like this one, just because it follows so many of the same beats.

  5. I liked this more than House of the Devil, cuz I thought the whole middle in HOTD was dragged out to where it just killed the early suspense. It felt like someone copying a slow burn late 70's horror movie without totally understanding why that works (I still liked it to a point).

    Instead, The Innkeepers felt like a 90's talky indie movie like Dream for an Insomniac or something mixed with a horror movie. So, instead of nothing happening under the fake pretense of building suspense, I was into the 2 main characters. The whole movie felt more organic and less forced than HOTD.

  6. I don't think there's much I could say that would change your mind, but I liked this one almost as much as HotD. I didn't look at the similarity in style as a detriment. I think that's just the way West directs movies. I liked The Innkeepers because I thought the relationship between the clerks was awesome, and I appreciated that there weren't really any jump-scares. It was a moody piece, just like HotD, and I didn't mind spending time with the people and place before the really ghosty stuff started happening. McGillis was great, too.

  7. Interesting point Thomas. It does feel a bit like a pre-mumblecore indie in some ways. And yes, I would definitely say it unrolled in an organic, natural way. The actors were definitely comfortable with West's script, which had a nice flow in dialogue. I just wish the whole construction WENT somewhere.

    Sir: (I like saying that) I was with the characters for a while, but then found myself wondering why I should care. And then I felt like McGillis was wasted, even though I do love seeing her in this new age of scream queendom. I'm definitely going to revisit the film some years down the line, especially to see where it falls once West gets a few more films under his belt.

  8. I agree--pretty disappointing, and by the end you're just what?

  9. Sir Phobos echoes my sentiments exactly. The scares in this one were cut from a different cloth (read: they weren't cheap). The scene where she's listening to her headphones, the anticipation of findings something around the corner and then not, very reminiscent of The Shining. I loved it.

  10. Grumble grumble grumble. I'll surf through your archives for your review (I think I remember it being posted, but skipped it since I hadn't seen the film). Grumble!

  11. I've got to disagree on this one too, for once. I absolutely loved this movie; my wife too. I thought it was better than HOTD, partly for mood and partly just because I found HOTD's aping of the 70's look to actually be a little distracting from actually getting into the movie. I dunno, I just really enjoyed this one, enough to go buy the disc. For me, it was the perfect blend of comedy and long, slow, brooding mood, and I loved the very gradual way we watch the characters go about their thing. But, my favorite horror movie ever is "The Haunting", so I have a strong bias towards creepy minimalist ghost stories. Also, the lead girl defines "cute as a button".

    My only complaint with it is that I wish it had had more of a backstory, and it was a little too simple to piece together the psychic's clues about what was going to happen. And I never would have known about the secret end scene if I hadn't listened to the commentary track - That was a good bit TOO subtle. Still, as haunted house movies go, this is going to be one of my favorites.

    I do also think I was primed to enjoy it more due to having just watched NuConan the night before. I found it highly ironic that two hours of watching constant fights and action scenes bored me senseless, but 90 minutes of watching two people wandering around an empty hotel was riveting.

  12. This explains everything: I too just recently watched NuConan...and ADORED it.

    Now that's not to say I don't like a good slow burn, but I just found The Innkeepers meandering with a disappointing climax. I totally see your points, and maybe when I revisit this one in a few years, I'll enjoy it on the same level. But I just did not like WATCHING this movie.

    And dude! NuConan had a guy get his nose cut off in the first scene, and scream "My nose!" It was pure gold!