The Innkeepers – Review
During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees determined to reveal the hotel's haunted past begin to experience disturbing events as old guests check in for a stay.
It’s time for another review in our Fall Themed Horror Series. Today’s movie is a slow burn horror with an obvious autumn vibe. Ti West’s The Innkeepers follows the story of hotel workers Claire and Luke. The Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing for good and the pair are holding down the fort for its last weekend. Fascinated by the paranormal and aware of the hotel’s sordid past. Clair and Luke attempt to contact the ghost of Madeline O’Malley.
Definitely not for everyone. This is a horror that focuses on its characters more than scares. It is slow moving and the slightly limited horror element may put some people off. For those of us who enjoy old fashioned ghost stories, however, it is a lot of fun. Set around October, there aren’t a tremendous amount of the usual fall tropes. We do have references to Halloween and there is a distinctly autumn vibe, however. With that in mind, let’s take a look. As always, I will give a quick spoiler free breakdown which can be skipped if you like.
November is Fall Themed Horror month. We will be reviewing a few movies every week that feature an autumn setting. The criteria is pretty broad here as the fall setting is rarely pivotal to the plot of a movie. It’s more of a coincidence than anything. Fallen leaves and orange hues are a must, however. When Fall Themed Horror month is over, we move onto December and Awful Advent. 25 days of Christmas themed horror reviews leading up to the big day. Definitely keep an eye out for that.
The Innkeepers – Synopsis
The Innkeepers starts with Claire, played by Sara Paxton, walking to work on a chilly morning. Her and Luke, played by Pat Healy, are the only two employees left at the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The hotel is closing down in a couple of days. Claire and Luke are staying on site to work the last weekend before the place is shuttered for good. Luke spends much of his time editing his horror website. Both Claire and him are haunting enthusiasts. They believe the Yankee Pedlar has a resident spirit and have been trying to make contact.
Luke writes about the ghost of Madeline O’Malley. She was a jilted bride, left at the alter, who ended up hanging herself in the hotel. Her body was, apparently, hidden in the basement of the property but her spirit never left. Realising that the hotel is shutting down and opportunities are limited. Claire wants to spend the final couple of days ghost hunting to get in touch with the spirit.
An older lady called Leanne Rease-Jones, played by Kelly McGillis, checks in to the hotel. Claire recognises her as an actor from a TV series. She introduces herself and tells her how big of a fan she is. Unimpressed, Leanne sends her away. Later, bored and alone, Claire decides to do some ghost hunting. She grabs Luke’s EVP equipment and begins to record. While in the lobby, she hears the sound of voices and music playing. She slowly walks up to the piano only to notice the keys being pressed. Shocked, she runs to wake Luke. It appears there may be more to the haunting rumours than initially thought.
An Old Fashioned Ghost Story
The Innkeepers is a good old fashioned ghost story. Slow paced, the star of the show is a location with a sordid past. The Yankee Pedlar Inn is one of the oldest buildings in town. With that age comes a lot of history. A jilted bride hanged herself and the owners hid her in the basement. Unfulfilled in life, she now haunts the place in death. Claire is completely determined to make contact. Luke, a little more passive, claims to have had experiences with the ghost. He writes about them on his terrible, pre-2000’s style, website and has recorded videos. Claire thoroughly believes him and this only fuels her determination. She sympathises with the spirit. Claire worries about Madeline remaining trapped forever alone in the hotel.
The Innkeepers aims to build tension over the first two thirds of its run time. Somewhat similar in pacing to Ti West’s previous movie, The House of the Devil. Character and scene setting are paramount. Claire is a bit ditsy and somewhat lacking in direction. A college dropout, she suffers from asthma and is seen constantly huffing on her inhaler. Luke is something of a waster. Clearly in his 40s and with no prospects. He works on his website, despite evidently lacking in design skills. Forever hoping that it will, somehow, lead him to riches. The two characters feel pretty well matched. For the majority of the time, however, we are sharing in the experiences of Claire. A very likeable woman who is a bit jumpy and feels somewhat vulnerable.
A Film of Two Halves
The Innkeepers is something of a strange movie. In fact, it is difficult to think of many other horrors like it. Although it masquerades as a haunted house style romp, much of the first half is a light, comedy drama. Claire and Luke are easy characters to like. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy have fantastic chemistry. They would go on to work together again in the future comedy horror Cheap Thrills. Their rapport is so natural it is as if they have known each other for years. They rib each other and bitch incessantly about the guests at the hotel. Genuinely funny in parts. It feels very much like we are watching a comedy drama in the style of Clerks.
At this point, it is difficult to imagine The Innkeepers becoming a full fledged horror. The movie feels light and most of the stuff that happens is fairly inconsequential. As the movie goes on, however, it transforms into something completely different. Much of the humour is gone and the threat is far more real. Our protagonist who initially felt a bit ditsy now seems extremely vulnerable.
It’s a significant switch of tone and whether it works or not is up to the viewer. Some people are going to really dislike this. I think, in fact, this plays into why The Innkeepers is such a divisive movie even among fans of slow burn horror. The change is so dramatic that many viewers likely feel turned around by it. The distinctly different styles are likely to leave viewers in one of two camps. Many will have simply checked out in the first half due to the slow pace and comedy focus. Those who stuck with it because they like the characters and humour may feel betrayed by the movie’s sudden seriousness.
The Innkeepers does not make any real effort to startle the viewer. You are not going to be navigating jump scares every five minutes. Much like the aforementioned House of the Devil, West likes to build an atmosphere of dread. Claire feels vulnerable but her incredible enthusiasm keeps pushing her to dig deeper. As the mystery unfurls, the tension grows. For the first half there is nothing at all. The second half piles things on a fair bit up until the non-traditional horror movie climax.
Whether the later scares are effective depends on the viewer. There is heavy use of makeup, camera cuts, and practical effects. This lends an almost fair ground haunted house feel to the film. The jump scares ramp up a little and our once likeable protagonist turns into a horror movie cliché. Claire makes stupid decisions and The Innkeepers suddenly starts playing to type. Horror movie tropes abound and explanations are pushed to the wayside. It is a bit of a disappointing second half. I can imagine many viewers, however, much preferring it to the non-horror leanings of the first hour or so.
Is This Setting Actually Scary?
Another problem with The Innkeepers, when it comes to scares, is the location. This hotel is absolutely stunning. Clearly steeped in history. The antiquated stylings and the obvious charm of the place let the atmosphere down. It’s just not a very scary setting. Sure, the basement is a little creepy. Most basements are unless you have a game room or a bar down there. Despite that, this looks like a place that is very much in business and incredibly desirable.
The fact that the hotel has so much history with hauntings undermines the plot. The Yankee Pedlar would be absolutely bustling. Located on a main street next to shops. There is no way this place wouldn’t be booked up. Haunting enthusiasts would flock here in their masses. That’s without mentioning legitimate customers who just need a well located hotel. I’d stay there for sure. Naturally, large opulent hotels can be scary locations. Just look at The Shining. This hotel, however, is just too small for that. It would have been better if they found a recently abandoned shit hole, in my opinion. We need dilapidation, we need large empty rooms, we need broken lights and creaky floors. The location is just not scary.
Excellent Acting and a Likeable Cast
For the majority of its runtime, The Innkeepers acts as a character study. Claire is more than a just a side character. In the first half of the movie she is, pretty much, the entire film. It is her curiosity that pushes events forward. Literally everything that happens takes place through her. Luckily Claire is very likeable. I am big fan of actor Sara Paxton, who plays Claire, and I think she does a great job here. It might be just me but she reminded me of an adult version of Kevin McCallister from Home Alone. The novelty of being in a large, almost empty, hotel is apparent to her and, for me, was reminiscent of Kevin roaming his abandoned house. It helps that a young Paxton looks something like a female version of Macaulay Culkin. Her varied facial expressions and ability to really sink into her characters helps tremendously.
Pat Healy is always great. Luke’s a fairly simple character. A bit of a deadbeat and something of a dreamer. We have all met people like him before and Healy does a great job encompassing it. Again, he is a likeable character and Healy’s chemistry with Paxton is noteworthy. An interesting turn by Top Gun star Kelly McGillis is very welcome. Playing a former actor that has developed a skill for psychic communication. She does a great job and adds some extra depth to the story.
A Strong Character Focus
I can imagine a few viewers maybe finding the strong character focus here a bit off putting. Your enjoyment of The Innkeepers is somewhat contingent on you liking the main characters. If you don’t like them, this movie will be an absolute chore. Despite how much I enjoyed Sara Paxton’s performance and how much I liked Claire. I can imagine some people finding her annoying. Claire’s reactions are turned up to 10 at points. Paxton’s tendency to exaggerate her facial expression may be a bit much for some. Watching her pout like a little girl and pull childlike sad faces, I can appreciate people feeling a bit irked.
Luke is, for lack of a better word, a bit of a loser. While suitably funny, he has that certain type of personality that some people don’t like. Unfortunately, as the movie goes on, he leans into some of his negative traits. This, naturally, has an impact on enjoyment for the viewer. If you find yourself not enjoying the main characters and their relationships. This could easily turn into a situation where you are watching in the hope that they are killed off. That is part of why The Innkeepers receives such mixed reviews from viewers.
A Divisive Horror
The Innkeepers was, generally, well received by critics. When it comes to the public, however, it was far more mixed. Some people absolutely loved the bizarre mix of comedy, inconsequential drama and ghost story horror. Others hated it and found it to be incredibly boring. It is one of those rare horror movies that even fans of Slow Burn Horror often don’t like. I feel as though much of this is down to the strange pacing and setup. As mentioned above, if you don’t like the characters you will likely hate the film.
I think the almost redundant nature of the first half of the movie is just too much for some viewers. Nothing happens… Like, literally, nothing at all. You could erase the first half and wouldn’t lose anything from the story. Everything is inconsequential. You would need a scene or two to set up the character dynamics. Add to that a little bit of time to establish facts that become important later on. You could then move on to the scares. While people are willing to tolerate 20 minutes of redundancy in a film. The Innkeepers has well over an hour of it. It is just too much and some people will not stick around to get past that.
Critics vs The Public
I think there is a simple explanation for critics enjoying The Innkeepers. Reviews were, generally, glowing and quite different from many viewer’s opinions. The comedy, drama, and character building are all important to critics. The general public is far less likely to care about these elements. Viewers came to watch a horror movie and feel scared. They didn’t come to watch two people chatting it up about nothing. While the character building and comedy are well done. They are ultimately fairly unimportant to the plot.
I really liked The Innkeepers and my final score reflects that. A big part of my enjoyment, however, is Pat Healy and Sara Paxton. I would watch a two hour movie of those two just chatting shit up and likely enjoy it. I completely understand why some people would not like this movie however. My score comes with a major caveat and that is the fact that it is my personal opinion.
If you don’t like slow paced horror, don’t even bother. Slow burn horror fans who don’t like heavily character focused plots, skip it. If you hate horror movies with a comedy leaning and tons of redundant story, give it a miss. Nobody should be made to feel stupid for their preferences. You like what you like at the end of the day. For those of us who have a high tolerance for pointless chit chat and quirky character focused drama. You will likely have found a real horror gem in Ti West’s The Innkeepers.
Is it a Knockout?
The Innkeepers is a fun little ghost story that places a heavy focus on character development. Fairly low on scares, Ti West attempts to build a tense atmosphere while keeping the mood light. Set in a hotel that is steeped in history. The two main characters are almost completely alone leading to a sense of isolation. Despite the location not being particularly scary. The haunted nature of the Yankee Pedlar Inn helps the viewer buy in to the character's situation.
Perhaps a little too content being a comedy drama, The Innkeepers is most definitely not for everyone. If you have a low tolerance for inconsequential events and character building, you may want to give it a miss. Fans of fast paced jump scare horror will likely find nothing to enjoy. Even slow burn horror lovers may be put off by the somewhat redundant first half. The excellent performances of Sara Paxton and Pat Healy help to keep you engaged however. If you enjoy light drama and comedy topped with a few scares then you may love The Innkeepers.