Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Innkeepers

Horror can be divided into two broad strokes. The classic era began with the first feature length horror film The Golem 19201 and the modern era started with Night of the Living Dead 1968. The classic era was gothic. This modern period is contemporary. It’s the better for it. The world can thank George A Romero for that.

Other filmmakers took Romero’s cue and began telling stories of their time. Wes Craven directed The Last House on the Left 1972. Tobe Hooper made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974. John Carpenter helmed Halloween 1978. There are others; David Cronenberg and Dario Argento. These are the Masters of Horror.

Their tales of terror began with Romero’s debut and ended with John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness 1987. Wes Craven made a number of films after that but horror rested in a graveyard shift. It was when Craven directed Scream 1996 that the genre was revived and remains so. Alas none of the other Masters has made a great film since the 80s. Craven himself hasn’t made a great film since Scream. Their time is gone. It is time for new Masters.

There are good films. There are great films. There are cultural masterpieces. To be a Master of Horror a director has to excel at greatness and create at least one masterpiece. Tobe Hooper will forever be known as the man created Leatherface. Ergo ‘the Splat Pack’2 are not Masters. They are upstarts and charlatans who use shock and gore to fatten formula.

In contrast Guillermo del Toro directed the borderline horror Pans Labyrinth 2006. He directed The Devil’s Backbone 2001. He produced The Orphanage 2007. He has surpassed those who came before him and this is how it should be3.

3 This is not to say del Toro’s career in horror supersedes that of Romero. It is a reference to the current output of the old Masters.
Del Toro sits a solitary figure at the roundtable of horrormeisters. The veterans are (de facto) retired and only he has taken their place. There is space for a new master. Ti West captured everyone’s attention with House of the Devil 2009. Cabin Fever 2 2009 got everyone’s attention for the wrong reasons. I liked it. Everyone else – including West – hated it4. If nothing else it alerted the fans that this is a talented director committed to horror – unlike the Splat Pack.
Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island 2010 suffered a delayed release then it opened to a $41million weekend. It’s the best opening in the director’s career. Such was not the case with The Innkeepers 2011. Its delay resulted in a Video-on-Demand premiere  on 30th December followed by a limited theatrical release of 25 screens on 3rd February. It ran for four weeks and grossed $78k5. It’s a shame Magnolia Pictures buried it in the United States because this is a film that was made to be seen in the cinema.

West’s camera is at a distance in this film. The result is scope that fills the frame as overview. It starts with the inventive title cards which integrate into the opening scene. This is an interior film much like The Breakfast Club 1985 and like the latter The Innkeepers houses a small cast within a confined space. It works because the technique is organic to the story.

The story is of two hotel employees who are waiting out the closure of The Yankee Pedlar Inn. The building is old and reputed to be haunted. Claire and a nonchalant Luke investigate to find proof of the ghost before they’re laid off.

In a near empty grand building West moves his camera and creates his scope. There are corridors and vacant rooms behind open doors. There are staircases and open spaces. This is a trick. It is a distraction for the audience because in seeing everything the viewer doesn’t see what’s coming.

metaphor as signpost

If Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) weren’t in this film they’d be in The Parking Lot Movie 2010. These two are card carrying members of the subspecies ‘geek’.  Such creatures are often associated with words like ‘quirky’ and  ‘kooky’. The reality is they are socially awkward and maladjusted. This is perfectly depicted in the ‘towel scene’ between Claire and guest Leanne (Kelly McGillis).

The Innkeepers feels not so much like a horror film but more like a film about horror. It’s not meta but it’s aware of the audience. It engages with the audience for so long that despite its technical prowess and involving performances there is torpor. West has fashioned a film with story but without plot. Whereas the geeks and hipsters may salivate over this in their misguided superiority it is alienating to mainstream genre fans.

The success of this film depends on what kind of viewer watches it. Those who find the dorks of this world endearing should love it. There are plenty of people who don’t like dorks. They won’t like paying £7 to watch them for 100 minutes.

The third act – such as it is – changes the whole perspective of the movie. What West accomplishes by the end is unnerving, disturbing and a desire to watch it again. The Innkeepers is not a masterpiece but West gets better with each film. He said in an interview6 he’s ready for a bigger budget. If so it should be another horror film. A $25m movie directed by Ti West could kick start a new period of creativity in the genre. Del Toro is a Master of the gothic. West tells of he horror of our time. He hasn’t changed the world yet but his throne is waiting at the Masters table.

The Innkeepers is on DVD 24th April in the US. It goes on general release in the UK on 8th June.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Attack the Block
1 The Golem available to download at the InternetArchive
2 The Splat Pack TIME
4 Ti West condemns Cabin Fever 2 Youtube
5 The Innkeepers Box Office Mojo
6 Ti West interview Youtube
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