The trappings may look familiar, but "The Innkeepers" is a new twist on the good, old-fashioned ghost story: It's the bored-slacker horror movie.
Writer-director-editor Ti West sets his film at the historic Yankee Pedlar Inn (and shot it at the real hotel in Torrington, Conn., which was built in 1891), which, for our purposes, has a history of hauntings and is on the verge of closing. West takes his time and doesn't seem interested in cheap, loud, quick shocks; the approach pays off and generates real tension. It's so low-key, it may actually be too languid in parts, but it's hard not to admire this rare sort of patience, as well as an interest in creating characters who feel like real human beings.
Sara Paxton and Pat Healy have an easy chemistry as Claire and Luke, the hotel's two remaining employees who are stuck minding the place over its final weekend. The slightly nerdy, wisecracking Luke is fascinated by the inn's supernatural past and is developing a website on the subject; tomboyish Claire doesn't have anything better to do and gets sucked into helping with his investigation.
Their conversations meander over a variety of topics. They can't sleep; they fight to stay awake; they get drunk together. These are the unusual potential horror victims that you'd actually enjoy spending time with.
Naturally, as they prowl the cavernous banquet room and the empty corridors, they start seeing and hearing things. And then there is the basement with its tortured history, which is simultaneously beckoning and foreboding. West depicts all of this in the leanest way possible, which evokes a retro sense of fear.
Kelly McGillis co-stars as a surly former TV star who's one of the hotel's last guests, and who may know more than she initially indicates. She still has a compelling, earthy presence about her after all these years. And "Tiny Furniture" writer-director-star Lena Dunham has one very funny scene as the self-centered barista at the nearby coffee house.
The ghosts are probably going there next. Here's hoping they do, at least.
"The Innkeepers," from Magnet Releasing, is rated R for some bloody images and language. Running time: 100 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.