When I was a younger man, I drove out into the snowy forests of Missouri with a bunch of friends in search of the Joplin Spook Light, a floating ball of energy that occasionally reveals itself to drunk farmers and college freshman (like me) who were hoping to get some sexy time with a live human female after experiencing the mysteries of the spectral plane, mysteries that happen to hang out at the end of a country road in the darkest of woods in the boringest of states.
I know what I think it looks like. What about you?
Sadly, the Spook Light did not show up that night, and I went to bed alone, shivering beneath my Target comforter and every once in a while trying really hard to reach the zit at the center of my back. I felt afraid, not because the universe had blasted me with confirmation of a world beyond our own, but because that dark, terribly cold night in the woods seemed alive with the possibility of spirits. There was nothing in those woods but teenagers, a twelve pack, and probably some coyotes, but it felt like there could have been. I remember looking at the snow and imagining a Satanic cult, wearing white robes and lying in the heavy white banks, waiting to pounce on those of us who just wanted to hold hands with Katy and maybe more. It was atmosphere, nothing else. There were no bad men waiting to fall on us with long knives and there probably is no Spook Light, but the fact that they felt real in that particular then and there… well, that’s why being a horny teenager is so great.
This is all a way of saying that director Ti West understands the concept of creeping dread. He directed the wonderful Satanic throwback House of Devil and has lately delivered a follow up called The Innkeepers, a slow burning horror film about a couple of twenty-somethings trying to prove that a hotel is haunted–it’s sort of a zany take on all those comedies where a ragtag group of friends bands together to save the old theater/record store/bondage club.
The question to be begged is, of course, whether it especially matters if there are ghosts wandering the halls of what is a beautifully dilapidated set. Some places don’t need help being creepy and the real terror is in not knowing if you really did just hear that voice, or feel that cold hand on your thigh. Again, West knows what he’s doing.
This is a film that may well annoy a lot of horror fans who expect blood early and often. Much of the screen time is devoted to conversations between the two charming leads (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy). When these two aren’t talking their heads off, dancing around the sexual tension in the air, they spend a lot of minutes peaking down stairwells and pointing tape recordings at thin air, hoping to catch audible evidence of a haunting that, at first, seems not to exist. Even though the hotel is closing, there are still a few creepy guests milling about.
One of them is Kelly McGillis, who has transformed quite admirably from Eighties wet dream girl into a dignified matron, one who in this case perhaps knows a bit more than she lets on. She spends her time drifting from scene to scene, muttering about dreadful this and that. This is, I think, what a late career resurgence should look like for a lot of over-forty women in the business. A once flawless woman (who is still quite beautiful, it should be added) is now allowed to settle into her age and deliver a performance that doesn’t hinge on everyone finding her desirable. She’s the best part of the show.
As with all horror films, what really matters is whether or not the damn thing is scary. That depends entirely on your definition of course. I find pho terrifying, while all of my friends tend to believe its delicious even if they can’t quite explain to me what it is. The short answer (and you knew this was coming) is yes and no. Like House of the Devil, a movie I or someone else on this site will get around to reviewing someday, The Innkeepers is more interested in the idea of ghosts than their actual presence–the back story is sort of ridiculous is what I’m saying. Is it as terrifying as more brutal genre offerings? No, probably not. But it has what many of them don’t… a brain. I’m not of the school that what you can’t see is more terrifying than what you can. That would be true if everybody had a good imagination. But most people don’t. In this case, though, the actual ghost just sort of looks like she needs a wet nap after a big helping of barbeque from the beyond. Maybe less is more in such cases.
A worthy genre entry, full of creepy tonal shifts and smart dialogue. I don’t know what to compare it to besides some of the better haunted house offerings like The Haunting (not the crappy Liam Nesson remake) or The Legend of Hell House. It falls short in head to head match ups, but at least you’re not watching Saw XXIV. Still, this movie is more about how we convince ourselves that there’s a monster in the closet, rather than, you know, the actual monster in the closet… which is still pretty fucking scary sometimes.
There she is. Such a handsome girl.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time EVP is mentioned like it’s actual science.
Take Another Drink: for every foreboding image of an empty room.
Drink A Whole Beer: when Lena Dunham, current mumble core IT GIRL appears briefly to tell you about her HBO pilot… she doesn’t really do that, but seriously, where did she come from? Also, if you have a subscription, watch Girls on HBO.