The rare contemporary horror film that prizes mood and tension over gore, “The Innkeepers” could be thought of as a modestly-budgeted homage to “The Shining,” but one done up with a degree of elegance unusual in today’s genre movie marketplace.
The script by Ti West is a very simple one. Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are the skeleton staff in a soon-to-close (and reputedly haunted) Connecticut hotel. Both are obsessed with paranormal activity and spend most of their time talking about the possibility that the place is inhabited by ghosts and searching for proof of their presence.
The only other characters of note are an over-the-hill actress named Leanne, played by Kelly McGillis, who claims to possess psychic powers—one of the place’s last remaining guests—and a strange, exhausted old man, played by George Riddle, who arrives unexpectedly and asks for a specific room in an already-shuttered part of the building. Both will play a part in the uncovering of the cause of spectral goings-on that become more and more evident, and menacing, in the latter stages of the picture.
But for the most part “The Innkeepers” is a satisfyingly old-fashioned haunted-house thriller, less about shocks and violence than atmosphere and dread. West deftly uses the hotel and Eliot Rockett’s fluid camerawork to build unease. He also draws excellent performances from Paxton and Healy, the former exhibiting a likable exuberance and the latter an appropriately nerdy mien. A special note of praise must go to Jeff Grace, who contributes a remarkably effective score that cunningly accentuates the film’s mood and becomes a virtual character in itself.
Those looking for slasher-movie overkill won’t find it here. West employs subtler techniques, and does so well. In 1978 John Carpenter elicited gasps from the audience by the mere act of blowing out a candle at the end of the credits to “Halloween.” The very last scene of “The Innkeepers” earns a similar reaction by equally simple means. It’s cheering to find that some filmmakers still realize that less can be more.