Ti West has become a prominent name in horror with X and Pearl, but the same eye for the offbeat and sinister in the seemingly mundane has always been there.
In 2011’s The Innkeepers, West pushed the mundanity to its limit. To persevere with it largely depends on how relatable you find the shenanigans of its two increasingly bored hotel workers. Having been in a similar situation, I found it highly relatable.
It’s almost time for the Yankee Peddlar Inn to shut up shop for good, and its two remaining staff members, Claire and Luke (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy), are dealing with the final dregs of custom that come their way while also trying to capture proof of the ghost that is supposed to roam the halls before it’s too late. As the day of reckoning for the Yankee Peddlar Inn draws nearer, Claire and Luke’s investigation grows more and more real and sinister.
The Innkeepers’ pace is messy and repetitive, and it’s easy to see how it could test someone’s patience. After all, it’s just two people dicking around and not actually finding much of genuine interest for the opening two-thirds of the movie. But for me, it’s a better movie for its mundanity.
The Innkeepers suckered me in pretty early because, as I mentioned, I’ve been in that job in that kind of situation (minus deadly ghosts, as far as I know). The long, dragging days in a place on the brink of being empty are my memories of working and living in a hotel.
You can actually feel the emptiness of otherwise unseen rooms, and it’s easy for the mind to linger on that and conjure up something supernatural out of a few creaks and bumps of a supposedly lonesome building.
The fact this was out the very year I lost that job and had those winding-up experiences made me weirdly nostalgic for a time I generally absolutely hated. Is it really nostalgia if it’s about a terrible time? Well, yes, because it wasn’t always terrible, and there was something I actually enjoyed about the eerie, quiet nights. Especially when it shut down for the post-Christmas period, and there was often nobody else but me in a 50-plus-room building.
I appreciate how methodical and ‘nothing’ a lot of this film is if you treat it as a traditional ghost story. It’s better to focus on it as the death of a longstanding business being mourned by tragically few people. The implied fate of the hotel is as tragic as the ghost story being told, and there’s a sort of echo/parallel in there, too. When the spectral payoff actually comes, it’s almost unwelcome in how it disrupts the grounded mirth and melancholy that precedes it.
The Innkeepers has a traditional haunting contained within it, but it’s most interesting when it unearths a subtler haunting. Places with rich histories that are on their deathbed are a tale being told all too often these days, both in physical and digital spaces.