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The Innkeepers (***)

innkeepersFilmmaker Ti West continue to hone his skills (and his resume, for that matter) as an emerging master of the horror genre with his latest fright flick ‘The Innkeepers’. This isn’t the scariest film you’ll see this year, but it has some great characters, a wonderful and wonderfully utilized setting and treats its story and the genre with a combination of respect and mockery that makes for a fun time at the movies. I liked what West gave us with ‘The House of the Devil’, but this is a less gimmicky and more complete package, featuring better characters and more humor to boot. For me, this is the best horror movie of 2012 so far…not that this is necessarily high praise, but it happens to be the truth. By making you care about the characters and keeping the tension level consistently high, we’re treated to a creepy and effective experience. The flick never tries to do too much, and because of that, it’s a very solidly successful movie. Personally, I can’t wait to see what West does with a real budget one day, because his talent seems to know no bounds. For now, he’s content to work deep within the independent realm, but I suspect that this won’t be for too much longer. He’s far too good to not get the call from Hollywood.

The film takes place during the final weekend of operations for the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The hotel is purported to be haunted, and employees Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are determined to see some ghosts before calling it quits. Luke considers himself an ameature ghostbuster and has a few gadgets to that effect, but Claire is just into it in a naive and fun way. They’re close friends, with hints of potentially something more (at least from one of them), but they’re most just bored at their job. The place is creepy, one whole floor is already shut down, and there’s currently only one guest and her child (Alison Bartlett and Jake Ryan, respectively). Soon, they’re replaced by actress Leanne Rose-Jones (Kelly McGillis) as well as an old man (George Riddle) looking to stay in one specific room. As Claire and Luke snoop around the joint, they begin to notice that they might be on to something…Claire more than Luke. What happens is best left for you to discover, although the question of how much might only be in her head is worth noting. It’s not the most original story, but it’s told in a way that makes it a step above the rest for me.

the inkeepersPersonally, the highlight of the flick is the chemistry between Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, as well as Paxton’s alluring performance overall. They’re interactions have an easy charm, with her toeing the line between tomboy and sexy, and him being a nerd with a bit more to him than that. Both Paxton and Healy are good, but I preferred Paxton…that’s just me though. She’s who you really make your bond with, and her character is the most important to the story overall. There’s also the oddball supporting turn by Kelly McGillis, which is pretty entertaining as well. The rest of the cast doesn’t leave much of an impression at all though no one is bad at all, but those 3 do…very much so (Paxton especially). The movie wouldn’t succeed otherwise.

The other highlight is writer/director/editor Ti West behind the camera. His script is just what the movie calls for, but never more (though his tongue is sometimes more firmly planted in his cheek than you’d expect…not that this is a bad thing)…his direction however, is often inspired. He shows some terrific restraint while still getting you on to the edge of your seat. He doesn’t need to always show a bloody image, but he doesn’t leave you hanging when it counts. West is very much at home in the horror genre, and as long as he keeps improving like he does, I’m going to always be excited for his next effort (which happens to be one segment of the upcoming found footage horror movie ‘V/H/S’ that was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival just recently). He’s just got that much talent at his disposal.

‘The Inkeepers’ doesn’t reinvent the horror wheel, nor does it try to, but it plays just enough with the genre to not be a standard story. The joy here is in what Ti West does with it, and what his actors do with it. This may not be an easy flick for you to find, but I highly recommend it. This is the type of horror movie that I wish got made more. The genre would be better for it…and also, the genre is far better for having Ti West working within it.

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Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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