The Yankee Pedlar's Inn is a hotel which, now the tourist season is over, has had to face up to the fact that they will have to close. For this final weekend, the owner is well aware that hardly anyone will be staying there and has taken the chance to go on holiday to Barbados, leaving a skeleton staff of two to man the reception. They are Claire (Sarah Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), two friends through work who share an interest in the paranormal, and Claire in particular wonders if she might be able to pick up some evidence of a haunting in the old building...
The Innkeepers was Ti West's follow up to the very similar in style House of the Devil, giving off the appearance of a preference for a more traditional form of scare in horror movies: there was blood and gore here, but it was held back until West felt it was really necessary, in the hope that he was building up a degree of suspense and anticipation for the presumably big scares that he had planned for the finale. Unfortunately for him, in this sensationalist age the general reaction to all this careful build up and characterisation translated into one word to many in the audience: boring! But if you had patience, this was by no means the dead loss its detractors would have you believe.
Much of that was thanks to Claire, a young woman made instantly likeable by the playing of Paxton so that crucially she was no dim bulb who would walk straight into your mad axeman or whatever shocker West had in store, and genuinely seemed like someone you would like to spend time with. Even the cynic Luke notes this, and while he might be abrasive elsewhere, there was a sweet scene where he admitted his defences had been broken down by Claire's better qualities. Thanks to Paxton's charm and the script which ensured she was appealing, what for some viewers felt like an interminable stretch of not much happening was far easier to take as we began to lightly understand what was going on in her head.
West did so by sending her into situations which won you over, first by showing Claire to be the only person on the planet who had never seen one of those internet "What's wrong with this picture?" scares, then more complicated when one of the final guests turns out to be a TV star from one of her favourites, Leanne Reese-Jones (Kelly McGillis, apparently at this stage in her career staking her claim as the veteran star to go to for low budget horror). Claire embarrasses herself in front of the star by blurting out how much she admires her and gets a polite but slightly aloof, patronising response, though Leanne will be significant later on when we find out she is in town for a psychic "healer's conference" rather than a TV convention.
As night draws on, Luke goes to bed - they're both staying overnight in the hotel for the last weekend - and Claire gets to work to see if she can pick up any EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), where voices from beyond are supposedly recorded on audio equipment. This note of authenticity illustrates West's care in assembling his stories, and there are patches where this is just as well seeing as how little is going on otherwise so the details, spooky or otherwise, must carry the atmosphere as well as the plot. As the hours slip by, Claire gets spooked by the idea there's an actual haunting in the building, the remnant of a tragic suicide which the owners of decades ago tried to cover up, but this business is kept pretty vague so that it could all be suggestion freaking the heroine out. If you appreciate what was being tried here, it's likely you'll feel truly sorry at how events resolve themselves, even if they did have an inevitability about them. For a film mostly about quiet dread, there was a sadness here. Music by Jeff Grace.