Written and directed by Ti West, the same man who brought us The House Of The Devil, 2011's The Innkeepers is set almost entirely inside the Yankee Pedlar Inn, an aging but well kept hotel in Connecticut that is going out of business. When we enter, we meet Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), the two employees tasked with manning the front desk and taking care of the few guests hanging around during the last weekend the hotel is to be open. We soon learn that they are not alone, however, when their discussions soon turn to Madeline O'Malley, the ghost who haunts the hotel ever since she committed suicide on her wedding day and had her body stored by the owners for a few days in the basement for fear of causing a local scandal. When Claire foolishly relays this story to the young boy (Jake Ryan) of one of the few guests in the hotel (Alison Bartlett - probably best known as Gina on Sesame Street!), mother and son eventually decide to leave.
Claire and Luke figure with the hotel closing its doors for good in just a few hours, this will be their last chance to prove the ghost exists - and so they decide to do just that. Things take an interesting turn when a former actress turned new age guru named Leanne Reese-Jones (Kelly McGillis) shows up. Claire is a fan and can't help but confess this to her, and while they pair gets off to an awkward start, as the night goes on they develop a passing friendship. When Claire starts to wonder if the ghost is real, she talks to Leanne about it, who tells her in no uncertain terms 'do not go in the basement.' With time running out, however, you just know that in their quest to get the proof they want, Claire and Luke are going to do just that - but first they have to take care of the aging man (George Riddle) who has just shown up with some very specific requests as to which room he be allowed to stay in.
While the film borrows elements from popular Ghost Hunters style TV shows (like the use of EVP recorders) and uses a couple of Paranormal Activity style spook tricks here and there, it sometimes it feels more like The Shining just because of its location. West deserves full marks for trying something a little different than what you get out of your average horror film. This is very much a slow burn picture, with the first half quite deliberate in its pacing and more interested in mild to moderate bits of character development than in ramping up the thrills. Things definitely pick up in the last half hour, however, as West reminds us that, yes, this is a horror movie after all. The character development works well, however. Paxton and Healy make for likeable enough participants here, and as they make the most out of their boring job by trying to amuse and entertain themselves with the inn's ghost story, we grow to like them enough that the big finish actually winds up meaning something. Both actors deserve a lot of credit for crafting likeable characters here and those only familiar with Paxton from her more flattering roles might just be surprised with how endearing her slightly nerdy Claire is in this film. McGillis is solid in her supporting role as well, her character a lynch pin of sorts as far as the narrative is concerned. She plays her part with some sage wisdom, initially standoffish but soon feeling for the kids not because of who they are but because of what she knows.
West's script offers some clues as to how the ending actually plays out but stops short of spelling it all out for the audience. Instead it asks us to think and to make up our own minds based on what it does provide (and it's enough that we're able to do so). Careful camerawork, lighting and attention to detail also help keep things interesting. If you're looking for gore soaked murder set pieces or loads of jump scares, this won't satiate you but for fans of deliberately paced and carefully calculated horror stories, The Innkeepers definitely does the trick.
The Innkeepers looks very good in 2.35.1 widescreen by way of the AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on this Blu-ray disc. Detail is sharp throughout and while the image shows a little bit of grain as it should, there are no issues with actual print damage. The movie makes use of a fairly cool color palette, and when things shift to the basement they get pretty dark, but color reproduction is handled well here and black levels are strong as is shadow detail. Some shots look a little soft but this appears to be intentional on the part of the filmmakers and seems to fit in with the film's intended style. The disc is well authored, showing no issues with edge enhancement, noise reduction or heavy compression issues. All in all, yeah, things look quite good here on the video front.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that comes with a recommendation by way of a text screen before the movie starts recommending that you play it loud - which is a pretty good suggestion. The mix at first seems very front heavy and almost like a beefed up stereo track but once things pick up the rear channels do an excellent job of playing around with some subtle directional effects and pans that swoop with eerie resonance throughout the entire soundstage. Levels are well balanced, the score sounds good and clear and the sound design turns out to be a pretty big part of what makes this movie work so well during its last half. The Blu-ray replicates all of this beautifully, without any issues in regards to levels, hiss, distortion or anything of the sort. Optional closed captioning is provided in English only.
Ti West is all over the extras on this disc, taking part in two commentary tracks. The first track pairs West with the film's producers, producers Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden, and his second unit director, Graham Reznick, who pulled double duty working on some of the sound design for the film as well. As you might expect, this is a fairly technical discussion that covers camera work, sound design, writing and editing and which gives us a good feel for what went into putting the picture together and working on it behind the scenes. It's quite and active and informative talk and one worth listening to. The second commentary pairs West with lead actors Sara Paxton and Pat Healy and it's definitely got a more lighthearted mood throughout. It obviously gives us the exact opposite perspective as we learn about what it was like working on the picture from the performer's point of view. Characters are discussed as are co-stars, locations and plot points - there's a good sense of humor behind the talk but it never gets so far off track that it loses you. Both commentaries are pretty informative and good additions to the disc.
Also included is a short featurette entitled The Innkeepers: Behind The Scenes which spends seven and a half minutes showing off the locations used in the film - yes, the Yankee Pedlar is a real inn and yes there are those who definitely believe that the location is haunted. Rounding out the extras on the disc are a trailer for the feature, animated menus, chapter stops, and trailers for a few other MPI/Dark Sky horror properties that play before the main menu screen loads. All of the extras on the disc are in high definition.
The Innkeepers isn't a perfect film and it really does take a bit too long to get going but it's well acted, quite suspenseful and plenty atmospheric. Those who appreciate a well told ghost story and don't mind the slow burn aspect of the production will definitely enjoy it, and Dark Sky have done a very solid job on the Blu-ray release. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.