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 – 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 hotel’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 hotel’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, they’re free to update the hotel’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 hotel’s final hours chasing ghosts and maybe, finally, nailing some definitive evidence of paranormal activity.
It’s a slow, gentle build. But be patient. Good things come to those who wait, and the film starts to develop as inevitably, Claire’s good-natured ghost-hunt leads to her recording some authentic paranormal phenomena. Suddenly it’s not so funny anymore. She also begins to develop a relationship with one of the hotel’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 arrives…
If you like old fashioned ghost stories, maybe Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity too, I reckon you’ll love this. I thoroughly enjoyed staying up past my bedtime and being spooked. All I was missing was the torch beneath the sheets. I’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 you’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 that’s all I want from a ghost story. Some are saying this is Ti West’s best film to date. I’d have to agree. Four Black Stars.
The Innkeepers (2011)