The Innkeepers

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Ti West has been making ripples in the horror world for almost twenty years, with a number of low budget indie entries being well received in the horror community – with The House Of The Devil the praise went farther afield. With The Innkeepers, Ti West tells an updated version of the classic haunted house story, moving the action to a hotel in the midst of closing down, and featuring much of his trademark humour, character focus, and building of tension.

Sara Paxton and Pat Healy are the two leads and take up most of the running time together. They have a certain chemistry which will be familiar to anyone forced to work in a confined space day in day out with the same person or group of people. As characters, they hit if off and clash like an affable old married couple, and as actors we believe that they have been through some boring shit together. They are twenty-somethings working purely to pay the bills and for something to do, with marginally grander schemes and hopes, biding their time in an old Hotel in its final weekend before closure. Aside from their shared flitting aimlessness, both are amateur ghost enthusiasts and have been hoping to record some paranormal activity in their last night on the job – the hotel having a history of spooky encounters and a sordid past. Stumbling upon their relative seclusion and ghost-hunting is a faded Hollywood starlet played by Kelly McGillis (in another interesting horror role for the actress). She just wants a room for the night and doesn’t want to be disturbed, especially by Paxton’s Claire who is a bit of a fangirl. Luke (Healy) and Claire use their ghost-hunting equipment and soon begin to pick up creepy voices and music before the apparitions reveal themselves.

While not West’s breakthrough movie, this is the one which garnered him the most critical attention and became his biggest hit. The film has an old-fashioned horror feel, a subtle, creeping approach to scares, and using atmosphere over jumps and gore. The script and direction are light and playful both honouring the history of haunted house movies while giving them a modern gloss and respect. Once the second half reveals come and the mythology of the house is made known, the scares come faster after the largely comedic, slacker style first half. The three main performances are solid and likable, Paxton and Healy are easy to relate to, and even though there’s nothing new here it feels fresh, especially in an era of loud bang scares and CG blood spatter. It isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but it’s a fun movie for those who don’t mind a bit of backstory and set up before the pay-off.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Innkeepers!

 

The House Of The Devil

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Ti West has been carving a name for himself in the horror world for quite a few years now, earning critical praise if not quite the commercial recognition he deserves. In a run that any director should be proud of, West crafted this nifty little throwback to the Seventies slasher, with nods to many classics, and showing an eye for flair, and for creating tension similar to those masters De Palma, Carpenter, and Hitchcock. From the setting to the soundtrack to the camerawork to the title credits, House Of The Devil is a fun, loving dedication to an interesting time in horror – one ripe for ridicule, but also for respect.

Instant Transportation

I love the introduction to House Of The West instantly transporting you to a more simple, better time for horror. We get an authentic retro opening credits sequence with big Yellow writing, hilarious, apt zoom shots and freeze frames, and 80s music blasting out of a walkman. There’s a case for saying that this intro is the best part of the movie, and it’s difficult to argue against that, but to say what follows isn’t great would be a foolish disservice. The retro look and feel is seen throughout, thanks to filming with 16mm and keeping a number of techniques familiar to 70s and 80s horror fans prevalent throughout. It’s not just in the stylistic approach – the hair and clothes and vehicles etc are all authentic, but in an interesting twist it takes the slasher sub-genre and gives it the slow-burning treatment. Aside from a few obvious classic, the slasher is more about gore and over the top kills and buck a minute thrills than creating tension or atmosphere. West keeps the kills and blood to a minimum until the conclusion, and even though there are few answers or reveals until close to the end, we are shown enough, and know enough that something isn’t right.

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West’s direction is assured, that’s easily enough established in the opening moments, so what of the rest of the cast? We have a pleasing range of familiar icons and fresh faces, and there are no let downs. A trait of the cheapest and sleaziest, and even the most popular horror films of the 70s and 80s were the less than stellar performances from less than household names – there would usually be a decent leading lady, and one reputable actor surrounded by people who had just enrolled in Acting 101 never mind those who had graduated from it. Dee Wallace appears in an early, minor role to set the tone of horror pedigree, but it is a soft spoken Tom Noohan who leads the way, a man known for many creepy roles. His wife in the film is played by another less known horror actress Mary Woronov, and they make a formidable pairing, both charming and affable and unnerving like a certain other sociable couple from Rosemary’s Baby, hint hint. Added to the cast in lesser roles are AJ Bowen who is gradually making his name known in horror circles, and Greta Gerwig who it seems just needs the right film to hit the big time after a number of well received performances. Our Scream Queen though is played by Jocelin Donahue who does a great job as both plucky heroine, 80s college girl, and distressed damsel, fighting, kicking, stabbing her way through a chaotic conclusion. For sections of the film she is alone and has to act by herself, managing to hold this scenes without issue.

Fine Carnage

These sections all lead towards a final vague reveal and some fine carnage. The only scene of violence before the final section is a pretty shocking gun-blast to the face for one unfortunate victim, but those last moments are a gripping mix of chase and torture, yet another game of cat and mouse in a large, shadow and secret filled house, but rather than simply re-tread old ground, West tries to actually make things scary rather than gory. The film and the payoff may not be perfect for all horror fans, but I was happy. Without giving away any spoilers, there is a reason behind all the violence and it’s fairly stock horror stuff, and even though there are brief hints throughout, it isn’t truly reveled until the final moments. Definitely a film which horror aficionados will appreciate more than the casual fan, but there is plenty to love here for those not accustomed to hockey masks and human centipedes.

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Have you seen The House Of The Devil? What did you make of the retro stylings of the movie and do you think it will be a future cult hit? Let us know in the comments!