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Review: A haunting good time with 'The Innkeepers'

Also: 'King of Devil's Island'

February 03, 2012|By Robert Abele
  • Sara Paxton and Pat Healy in "The Innkeepers."
Sara Paxton and Pat Healy in "The Innkeepers." (Magnolia Pictures, Magnolia…)

Following his masterfully atmospheric '80s peekaboo throwback "The House of the Devil," indie horror guy Ti West plays creep show docent again with "The Innkeepers," about a slacker hotel employee named Claire (Sara Paxton) who misguidedly provokes engagement with her soon-to-be-shuttered workplace's haunted reputation.

It's as much an homage to the creaky old-world charms of the place where West and his crew stayed during the Connecticut shoot of "House" — a regally faded 19th century edifice called the Yankee Pedlar — than it is another agreeably fun flexing of the writer-director's considerable shivers-not-shocks technique. An empty hallway at a low angle, a faintly hollow noise and a shot held two beats longer than usual are West's tools of the trade — plus a cheeky sense of humor in the glib conversations between Claire and fellow worker Luke (Pat Healy).

It all lends an air of unsettling, "The Haunting"-style anticipation to nearly anything: a trip to the dumpster, inspecting a well-lighted foyer or a bedside chat with the mysterious new guest (Kelly McGillis). Then there's — gulp — the basement.

The spare cast are effective game pieces, with Paxton an especially winning heroine, but whether you're a nervous wreck by payoff time, however, depends on your taste for mood over mayhem. Still, there's a skillful appreciation here for the kind of subjective dislocation behind the best ghost stories, and in this era of bloody-disgusting, that kind of smart ambiguity is welcome indeed.

"The Innkeepers." MPAA rating: R for some bloody images and language. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

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