Style and substance are two of the most important planes of storytelling when it comes to film. Some stories produce tremendous feats in style while others stick to the substance basics. Who says one cannot exist without the other? Though they seemingly exist in different realms, keeping a strange give-and-take of balance, the two cinematic constituents can cross paths to create a film that inhibits the best parts of both worlds.

Ti West (The House Of The Devil) is a director that aims to achieve a necessary level of quality in his signature design and narrative techniques. His 2012 ghost story, The Innkeepers, remains a sleeper triumph in the art of infusing nostalgic simplicity in style and substance by connecting the two planes in level spirit. 

 

“…something more than boredom haunts the rooms of The Yankee Pedlar Inn.”

 

Starring Sara Paxton (The Last House On The Left 2009), Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills), Kelly McGillis (We Are What We Are), and Lena Dunham (Girls), The Innkeepers checks in a contemporary supernatural essence “when two employees at a New England hotel decide to investigate stories of hauntings and ghosts, their curiosity wakens an unwanted presence. Separated by four major chapters ‘The Long Weekend’, ‘Madeline O’Malley’, ‘The Final Guest’, and an unsettling ‘Epilogue’, West’s tale of two souls trapped within the walls of a failing local inn both figuratively and metaphorically.

The Innkeepers channels timeless horror principles, questions universal plans, and conjures model scares. Slowly but surely, viewers will come to find that something more than boredom haunts the rooms of The Yankee Pedlar Inn.

 

It’s Just A Story

Ghost stories run a gamut of horror-centric content from the believable to the outlandish. As one of the most common spiritual tropes across cinema, the tale of a specter haunting allows filmmakers to infuse their work with emotion, terror, and poignancy. The Innkeepers finds a solid basis in a simple ghost story set at The Yankee Pedlar Inn. On the brink of closure and riddled with small town historical legends, two employees seek to make contact with the potential ghosts that roam the building’s halls. The spirit of a tragic widow, Madeline O’Malley, gives the narrative a specific entity to fear and a relatable subject of paranormal agency. Launching their own novice investigation, hotel employees Claire and Luke provide a human aspect that counterbalances the spectral activities and ultimately facilitate the connection between two realms of life.

Classic and nuanced, Ti West confidently crafts a sound screenplay that appeals to novel ghost chasing intrigue through seemingly effortless storytelling. Less is more when it comes to the film’s haunting matter of contact, while West’s elevated direction techniques drape the experience under an intricate veil of style. From myths to orbs to E.V.P. recordings, The Innkeepers holds a traditional grasp on familiar ghost story etiquette that utilizes modern film mechanics to produce a consistent, fresh delivery.

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The Innkeepers holds a traditional grasp on familiar ghost story etiquette that utilizes modern film mechanics to produce a consistent, fresh delivery.”

 

Hosting a range of spooks and haunts, The Yankee Pedlar Inn acts as a frightening presence all its own. The ornate, Victorian hotel invokes all of the gracious welcoming fixtures and design found in a quaint, once-notable local landmark that are since dated. Its vintage mysterious allure adds generously to not only the aesthetic of The Innkeepers, but to the story itself. The levels of vacant rooms and common areas supply West with applicable settings to play with the atmosphere and enhance the vulnerability of his characters and viewers alike.

As an aging establishment reminiscent in a secretively spotty history, the Inn’s dormant constitution eerily fashions a frozen state of being for its customers and employees. Complete with a creepy basement, the long hallways, creaking floors, grand rooms, and empty spaces of the building all serve as components that turn the Inn into an antique capsule of spirit and time. An eerie setup marked by infamous dread and an almost pragmatic approach to its subsequent ghostly behavior, The Yankee Pedlar Inn is an especially chilling environment painted as an original portrait of still uncertainty.

 

Unexplainable Phenomena

Among many of its quality haunts, The Innkeepers is slow-burn storytelling at its finest. Appropriately lighthearted with an inflection of portentous overtones throughout, the intensity of the horror elements increase in a steady build. The pacing is controlled as viewers can feel the drone in Claire and Luke’s routine day to day drone that eventually evolves into layers of more sinister thrills. Though the film is set in one location for a majority of its lingering hour and forty-minute runtime, West creates vivid movement by making use of a haunted, sinuous location.

The lighting Eliot Rockett’s (The House Of The Devil) cinematography beautifully captures the characters’ states of persistence, boredom, curiosity, and fear. The spiritual ambiance and otherworldly figure that exists within the rooms and halls carries an omnipresent perspective thanks to variations in a fluid traveling lens and secondary observation that follows Claire in her haunting pursuit throughout The Yankee Pedlar Inn.


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The Innkeepers is slow-burn storytelling at its finest […with] the intensity of the horror elements increase in a steady build.”

 

Shrouded in a purposeful, uncomplicated mood, The Innkeepers allows scares to range from subtle to extreme. The film’s tone is an incredibly crisp mixture of lingering dread and sinister possibility. Its effortlessly sound atmosphere is endearing and poised, creating direct conditions for the ghost story to unfold with depth. Muted sounds, whispering, and EVP soundscaping all work to engage attention and draft unnerving auditory effects. Jeff Grace’s (In A Valley Of Violence) grand score gives the film a significantly retro hum that invokes familiar tones of ghost films past. Viewers can practically feel the phantom presence manifest when situations crawl into carefully placed moments of tension.

Encounters between ClaireLuke, and the ghost of Madeline O’Malley are surprisingly far and few in between, a testament to West’s delicate discipline. When the visual scares do occur, they are impressively natural and sudden. The relatively tame nature of the film’s more galvanized scenes contributes a more legitimate profile to the entity of Madeline. The phenomena that takes place in The Innkeepers airs more on the side of believable ghost sightings rather than the exaggerated and manufactured.

 

Just You And Me

Capitalizing on simplicity, The Innkeepers deliberately revolves around the characters of Claire and Luke. Limiting the list of players allows viewers to focus on these two who carry the narrative through with cause and ambition. Their friendly dynamic is endearing and adds a relatable sense of dimension to each as individuals and as a team. Paxton’s portrayal of Claire walks the line between naivety and bravery while Healy’s Luke stands sardonic and pessimistic. Their chemistry grows from a shared displacement in the real world and a shared fascination with the unknown. Claire and Luke are both average people with odd, respective charismatic traits that makes them an entertaining subject to observe.

As an accessible protagonist, Claire shows vulnerability, awkwardness, and even embarrassment allowing easy feelings of empathy to build as circumstances become stranger by the hour. As the realist, Luke counters Claire’s impressionable demeanor and wanes between disbelief, skepticism, and fear as the haunting themselves become more apparent. Through their organic dialogue, viewers learn more about these characters’ struggles to find their way through the mundane. Though feelings beyond friendship are briefly acknowledged, it never seems to muddle the plot or distract from the film’s themes of pending stasis. The Innkeepers’ capricious mystery is survived by Claire and Luke’s genuine will to team up and expose the afterlife.

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Trapped on their own accord or by tragedy, the lonely patrons of The Innkeepers will stay with viewers long after the doors close for good.”

 

The Innkeepers is indeed a modernized showcase of classic ghost story effects in its overall presentation, but there is more to the film than scary specters and quirky characters. The Yankee Pedlar Inn houses a deeper nuanced parallel between Claire and the spirit of Madeline O’Malley. Claire’s apprehension to find her place in a career beyond the front desk of the Inn and Madeline’s inability to crossover creates this interesting parallel that explores territories of void suspension. The inhabitants of The Yankee Pedlar Inn, from the employees to neighbors to the few guests and beyond, are all stuck in poignant limbos that create an underlying composition of ambivalent horror.

As Claire struggles with her “quarter-life crisis”, her determination to set the apparition free from the hotel mirrors a desire to progress as a person. The typical expectations humans inherently express and the divine reasoning for their purpose play a dignified role in driving the mystery that haunts the characters of this film. Claire and Luke’s bond over the happenings at The Yankee Pedlar Inn guide a ghostly investigation that serves as a source of amusing diversion from their immobile realities and, ironically, one that keeps them from moving on in life.  

 

 

Like the paths of style and substance, the living and the dead may cross over and coexist to bring two separate realms together in exceptional synergy. West’s allegorical exercise in a respectable ghost story successfully opens present-day audiences up to a more traditional approach when it comes to the portrayal of hauntings. His jaded and flawed characters ground the film in a relatable tone, while his application of otherworldly effects strongly supplies tasteful, authentic terror. Trapped on their own accord or by tragedy, the lonely patrons of The Innkeepers will stay with viewers long after the doors close for good. No one just winds up at The Yankee Pedlar Inn, but sometimes no one checks out.

Are you a fan of Ti West’s old school ghost story? Do you think The Innkeepers combines style and substance? Does this film give you the spooks? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!

 

Poster for the movie "The Innkeepers"