[This was originally posted as a part of our coverage of the Los Angeles Film Festival.It has been reposted to coincide with the film’s theatrical and VOD release.]
Horror and comedy are always fairly close bedfellows. It’s a natural response, really. One can only hold up an immense amount of tension and terror for so long without burning the audience out, and what better way to break the tension than with a good belly laugh? The Inkeepers is the latest to try and tread the fine line between the two genres. There’s a lot to like about the film, but it stumbles trying to figure out just the right tone, until the very end. Boy, when this film is on, it is on.
Sadly, when it’s not, it’s really not.
Director: Ti West
Release Date: February 3rd (theatrical), out now on VOD
Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are the last two employees at the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The hotel is in its last weekend of operation, and the two have to live in the hotel for the final weekend to cover the last few guests, while their boss has fucked off to Barbados. They have a way to pass the time, though: ghost hunting. Legend tells of the spirit of Madeline O’Malley, who killed herself on her wedding night only to be callously hidden in the wood shed for days until the hotel employees figured out what to do with her body. Luke, who runs a website dedicated to the hotel’s hauntings, claims to have seen Madeline drifting through the halls, and he and Claire decide they have to document real proof of the supernatural before the hotel is demolished. Of course, soon things start to get weird and dangerous, and Claire and Luke have to figure out just what’s going on in this spooky hotel.
Let’s just get the big problem with the film out of the way. The first hour is fairly slow. There’s very little supernatural stuff happening, some good tension, but it’s mostly Claire and Luke bullshitting with one another. They’re funny people, and their banter kept things from getting too stale, which I suppose it a godsend. There’s frankly just not enough stuff happening early on to grab my attention the way I wanted it to. A lot of time is spent on the two of them spooking each other out and setting up some “gotcha” moments. Again, the fake-out jump scares are well done, with a fair amount of really solid tension, but after the fifth one, I was starting not to care. Despite a tense scene with a former actress turned psychic (Top Gun‘s Kelly McGillis), the movie was starting to lose my attention. I think if the film lost half an hour out of the middle, it would tighten up the whole affair and elevate this from kinda OK to pretty goddamned all right.
But when the third act finally arrives, man, does it cook. Obviously, I can’t say much, for fear of spoilers, but the final thirty minutes almost entirely makes up for the preceding hour+ of intermittent tedium.
The two leads are more or less enjoyable. Pat Healy is a deadpan scene-thief as Luke. Sara Paxton is a bit inconsistent as Claire, going back and forth from an almost naive petulance to just plain boring. Sometimes she’s hitting on all cylinders, other times it feels like she’s phoning it in. I suppose the same could be said about the film’s pacing, but I’ve already cracked into that.
The main draw in this film, though, is the fantastic sound design and score. Horror movies, I’ve always said, are made or broken by the score and the sound design. If one or the other sucks, all of the tension just goes right down the drain. At that point, you might as well be remaking Better Off Dead. Graham Reznick and Jeff Grace, sound designer and composer respectively, has done a bang-up job here. The film plays a lot with sound, as Claire and Luke’s only way of recording paranormal activity is with a professional recorder. One scene in particular has Claire, headphones on, slowly creeping through a banquet hall, listening for the slightest noise. When she hears something amidst all the background noise, she yanks off her headphones, and all the sound design just halts. It’s simple to describe, but very effective in practice. Overall, the film is full of moments where the sound design and/or the score elevate a creepy scene into downright terror.
Overall, The Inkeepers is a surprisingly effective horror comedy. Or is it comedy horror? I’m not even sure. Either way, it’s a solid low budget horror movie and well worth your time. Though I’ll be happy to see director/writer Ti West move on to horror movies that don’t feature hipster girls slowly creeping up and down hallways.