A horror-thriller centered on the last two employees at a haunted hotel that’s going out of business.
This was showing as part of the Incredibly Strange film festival (incrediblystrange.co.nz), which is an offshoot of the main New Zealand Film Festival. I noticed it was scheduled for a 10.45pm showing, in one of the smaller, quieter and artier cinemas. A perfect setting in which to get back to basics and enjoy a good old-fashioned ghost story. This one was a credit to the genre. I had a feeling it was going to be good as soon as the opening credits came up: old sepia photographs over a menacing, orchestral score. Classic stuff. This is such an important part of the filmic experience, and when properly crafted, it plays an essential role in setting mood and tone â€“ quietening the audience and getting them into the right frame of mind.
What followed was the story of a turn-of-the-century hotel which is closing for business. The disinterested owner has gone off on holiday, leaving the last rites to be administered by the hotelâ€™s two remaining staff, Claire and Luke, played superbly by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy (the acting throughout is excellent). These two slackers are both intrigued by the hotelâ€™s spooky history and tales of the abandoned bride who wanders the corridors. With the hotel having only two guests, and needing little in the way of service, theyâ€™re free to update the hotelâ€™s cheesy website with the latest EVP recordings and film clips and generally enjoy having a large hotel to themselves. The banter and dynamic between the two of them is superb – funny, natural and authentic. Their plan is to spend the hotelâ€™s final hours chasing ghosts and maybe, finally, nailing some definitive evidence of paranormal activity.
Itâ€™s a slow, gentle build. But be patient. Good things come to those who wait, and the film starts to develop as inevitably, Claireâ€™s good-natured ghost-hunt leads to her recording some authentic paranormal phenomena. Suddenly itâ€™s not so funny anymore. She also begins to develop a relationship with one of the hotelâ€™s guests, a hard-drinking actress turned psychic ( a great performance from Top Gun’s Kelly McGillis). And then, as the jocular tone of the early part of the film is replaced by something altogether more unsettling, another guest arrivesâ€¦
If you like old fashioned ghost stories, maybe Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity too, I reckon youâ€™ll love this. I thoroughly enjoyed staying up past my bedtime and being spooked. All I was missing was the torch beneath the sheets. Iâ€™d advise you to watch in a suitable setting and atmosphere. Like all ghost stories, you need to commit to it and allow it to slowly reel you in until youâ€™re hooked and wriggling in discomfort. The performances are brilliant, the direction superb. Yes, there are few holes here and there, but who cares. It scared me and thatâ€™s all I want from a ghost story. Some are saying this is Ti Westâ€™s best film to date. Iâ€™d have to agree. Four Black Stars.Â
The Innkeepers (2011)