"The Innkeepers": A Simple Approach to Supernatural Terror

Horror movies are lately given to gluttonous effects, but director Ti West (The House of the Devil) is a rare minimalist. His latest, The Innkeepers, takes place almost entirely on the premises of The Yankee Pedlar, a three-story turn-of-the-last-century hotel located on what might be the Main Street of any smallish, down-on-its-heels Northeastern city. It's the Pedlar's last weekend of operation, and the skeleton crew of Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) is sleeping over, trading off shifts at the front desk. Since the hotel is nearly empty, however, Claire and Luke devote most of their attention not to the guests but to investigating supernatural goings-on in the hotel. With a mic cued to EVP frequencies, the pair tries to collect solid evidence of haunting-via-suicide-case Madeline O'Malley, whose ghost Luke claims he has seen wandering the halls. What follows is all about withholding, creating a blank canvas of non-events against which the slightest incident, like a piano key that pounds down by itself, takes on an undue significance and becomes something monumental. The Innkeepers is so loaded with false scares and cautious treading that when freshly spilled blood suddenly flashes onscreen, the shock is really alarming, a return to the scrambling, clambering fear of death that is at the center of these silly horror movies.

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