It’s all about managing expectations. The posters for this latest low-budget chiller from American writer-director Ti West (‘The House of the Devil’) show a scarred, ghoulish face looming through ominous clouds while a quote from ‘Hostel’ director Eli Roth screams that it’s ‘one of the best… scariest indie horror films I’ve seen’. So maybe it’s unsurprising that horror chatrooms are filled with bilious attacks on West and his movie, accusing it of being talky, gore-free and not especially terrifying. All of which is essentially true – but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film.
‘The Innkeepers’ is set – and was shot – in the infamous Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington, Connecticut, known by aficionados of the paranormal as one of America’s most haunted hotels. It’s there we find Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), bored twentysomething no-hopers manning the desk in the days before the inn was sold off and repurposed. But Luke knows all about the Yankee Pedlar’s troubled past and is determined to get evidence on tape before the place is boarded up.
The ghost story element of ‘The Innkeepers’ is determinedly, perhaps even lazily, old-fashioned, but the heart of the movie is in the characters and their interactions. With a rambling plot and effortlessly likeable comic turns from both leads, this is much closer to the loose, semi-improvised freshness of mumblecore than to a traditional horror movie. But this only serves to make the film’s sparing moments of suspense all the more unsettling: we truly care for these characters, and can’t bear the thought of them coming to harm. Hardcore horror heads may scorn its snail pace and shaggy-dog sweetness, but for discerning viewers, ‘The Innkeepers’ is a slow-burning charmer.