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With: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis
Written by: Ti West
Directed by: Ti West
MPAA Rating: R for some bloody images and language
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/12/2011

The Innkeepers (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Gloom Service

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For those that clued into its sleight-of-hand tempo, Ti West's The House of the Devil (2009) was one of the finest horror films of its decade. Now West has done himself one better with the new The Innkeepers.

The Innkeepers takes place on the final weekend of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a forgotten old place that is said to be haunted by the ghost of Madeline O'Malley.

Its desk clerks -- balding, cynical, 40-ish Luke (Pat Healy), and cute, spunky 20-something Claire (Sara Paxton) -- agree to sleep on the premises, taking turns working their final shifts.

The two share a playful, platonic relationship. Luke is a ghost enthusiast and Claire is eager to join him on his latest spiritual encounter.

But meanwhile, there are a few guests to deal with, including a cranky mom and her small boy, a mysterious old man, and a burned-out actress-turned-medium, Leanne (Kelly McGillis, of Witness and Top Gun fame).

As with The House of the Devil, many scenes in The Innkeepers appear to go nowhere, with no clear advancement of the plot, and no scares.

For many viewers, this will be a turnoff, but for those interested in the intricate art of building sly suspense, sustaining moods, and deepening characters, The Innkeepers is the horror equivalent of The Tree of Life.

Director West does not forget the spooky/bloody bits, but they're just not where one would expect. There's no countdown until something jumps out and yells "Boo."

Rather, he's like a magician, deflecting expectations. For example, early in the film, Luke shows Claire a "ghost" video he's discovered on the web.

What happens in the video -- and what doesn't happen -- practically sums up West's entire modus operandi.

None of this would matter, however, if Luke and Claire weren't such terrific characters.

Ms. Paxton in particular, who has so far starred in bland chillers like The Last House on the Left (2009) and Shark Night (2011), gives a delightfully goofy performance.

The moment in which she takes out a drippy hotel trash bag could make her a star.

The Innkeepers comes from all angles. It's sometimes sweet and funny, often very spooky, and it has the brightly lit, wide-angled aura of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

Call it a mashup, something like Quentin Tarantino's films or Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, or call it boring if you will, but with The Innkeepers, West has virtually reinvented, and reinvigorated, a genre.

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