Watching writer/director Ti West's movies is like enduring cinematic water torture in the most delicious of ways. Of the two major theatrical releases he's been involved in (2009's House of the Devil and this film), he starts Pied Piper-ing you, easing you into a world that just isn't quite right. Trusting, you go along, until The Moment you realize what's really going on. Always walking the line between being so tense you can hardly stand it, versus being so boring you can hardly keep your eyes open, patience is a virtue that West rewards in the end--as long as you don't fall off in the middle.
Where Devil is more Last House on the Left with its lack of humor and relief, The Innkeepers feels more like The Puffy Chair and the 1963 film The Haunting had a non-annoying hipster baby. Thankfully the cast of characters either working or staying at the supposedly-haunted Yankee Pedlar Inn keep the movie moving along, including the charmingly clueless Claire (Sarah Paxton) and her adoring co-worker Luke (Pat Healy). Their love of the paranormal (and possibly each other) is so lackadaisical that it's no wonder no one comes out to vote in presidential elections anymore. They talk about nothing, drink Schlitz, point microphones into empty rooms, and manage to make it feel necessary in a wasted-youth kind of way.
Since this is the hotel's final weekend before closing, it makes sense that Leanne (Kelly McGillis), an actress turned psychic, would show up. Otherwise, how would Claire ever snap out of her casual love for ghosts and realize that Madeline O'Malley, the rumored specter still hanging around the hotel decades after her death, wants to say goodbye? She adds a nice anchored feeling to the film, which always feels like it can either go completely silly or terrifying at any minute. Luckily, it chooses one direction, and by the end of the movie, it will either leave you panting (not in a hot-escapade-in-a-hotel kind of way) or shrugging your shoulders.
The reason to see this film is because it harkens back to old-school horror flicks that couldn't accomplish a ton of fancy stuff with camera tricks and instead got you inside the heads of the people onscreen to really freak you out. With a nice, sparsely used dash of modern technology and sensibility, it's a nice update to an old standard.