Any spooky movie set in a hotel is doomed to draw comparisons with a certain Jack Nicholson/Stanley Kubrick horror milestone.
While writer/director Ti West does deliver a handful of prowling corridor shots and an early dizzying view of a crazy-patterned carpeted staircase, The Innkeepers is no Shining clone.
What it is closest in tone to is those classic children’s supernatural mysteries in the vein of The Lady in White or Watcher in the Woods or even the 2006 gem Monster House, and bar the frequent colourful language and climactic bloody horror this could have been a kids’ ghost story.
And while the basic plot resembles House of the Devil, West loses the 80s vibe of that winner, playing the movie in a post Clerks/Slacker/Ghost World universe that seems like some time in the 2000s (the internet used does look a bit primitive so this could still be a period piece).
Like House of the Devil though, The Innkeepers bravely devotes a large chunk of its running time to developing atmosphere as hotel clerks Claire (Paxton) and Luke (Healy) investigate the legend of the dead woman haunting the hotel.
West knows how to shoot an empty room and make it unnerving and has fun with characters hearing sounds through recording devices that aren’t evident to the naked ear.
With this slow build characters have space to breathe and the film is rewarded by a cast who don’t put a single foot wrong (admittedly there are about five people in the film…).
Healy and Paxton banter like they’re in a (good) Kevin Smith movie and the longtime where-is-she-now Kelly McGillis lends gravitas as a mysterious guest with a possible insight into the spooky goings-on.
But, this is Paxton’s show and she walks away with the entire movie. Whether playing broad physical humour, wide-eyed Nancy Drew style sleuthing or quaking terror when the scares get really scary, she is forever watchable and should slip into the bigger leagues because of her work here.
While plumping pretty much for “this is all real”, West does introduce a little ambiguity to suggest this could be the work of old wives’ tales fuelling over-active imaginations, adding another layer of enjoyment to a massively engaging movie.