AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug talks with director Ti West about his new film THE INNKEEPERS! Plus a review of the film!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Hi folks, this week I had a chance to check out THE INNKEEPERS, Ti West’s fantastic sophomore film following one of my favorite films in the last ten years, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. THE INNKEEPERS is a fantastic film centering on a haunted hotel and a pair of hotel workers bored out of their minds working there until ghostly things start happening. Below is my review of the film, and then read on to see what director Ti West had to say about the film.
In select theaters/available on VOD Feb 3rd!
THE INNKEEPERS (2010)Directed by Ti West
Written by Ti West
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
After experiencing HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, Ti West immediately became someone for me to watch out for. Having seen a ton of horror films, it takes a lot to give me the willies, but West did with his tormented babysitter ode to the 80’s. When I got wind that West was going to go the supernatural route, I knew this film would prove if the writer/director had the versatility to not only cause chills with real world scares, but otherworldly ones as well.
Turns out he’s got it in spades.
THE INNKEEPERS is a deviously patient and shockingly effective horror film. West patiently introduces us to Claire (played by Sara Paxton, more on her later) and Luke (Pat Healy). Anyone who had a job through college or worked in a place where there is a lot of down time knows this pair’s dilemma. The jobs they have as innkeepers fits in with their slacker mentalities, but that doesn’t stop them from bouncing their big ideas off one another. Luke runs a website highlighting ghostly encounters and talks grandly about the time he experienced paranormal activity at the hotel. Claire wide-eyedly believes him and with the hotel closing, the pressure for a ghostly investigation is on. Being a fan of GHOST HUNTERS and shows like them, I loved the amateur ghosthunting aspects of the film. Having these two bored twentysomethings tool around in the dark would have been enough for me without them finding anything. Healy and especially Paxton are as likable as they come. Healy’s snarkiness is something one could find in any random talkback post, while Paxton offers the wide eyed wonder reminiscent of Henry Thomas from ET, Sean Astin from GOONIES, or William Ragsdale from FRIGHT NIGHT. Though these are all male characters, Paxton serves as the lead here and is much more of the dominant role here while Healy’s true colors shine through as soon as stuff gets supernatural.
The fact that I’ve gone through most of this review without talking about the scares or effects should tell you this is a great film even before the weird stuff starts happening. West makes this a true character piece with these two actors that fascinate the audience the whole time. In doing so, when the supernatural occurs, I felt more invested than ever for the safety of these two characters one can’t help but like.
Though this film obviously had a low budget and a lot of the scares are more due to reactions by the actors and some clever camerawork by the director, this is an extremely scary film. A scene in the basement where the two amateur ghosthunters are trying to summon a spirit is extremely effective and not a ghost is actually seen. It’s all close camerawork, moody music, and deft performances by the actors. Even when the ghostly image of the spirit that used to live in the haunted hotel appears, it’s only momentary with the moments leading up to it shredding nerves the whole time.
Kelly McGillis adds a bit of class and panache as a washed up actress now backing spirit crystals for infomercials who happens to be in the hotel when all the shit goes down. Hers is another performance that makes you care about the living more than one usually does in this type of movie.
Though THE INNKEEPERS is not as spine-tingler-ific as HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, it is a great ghost story which remains effective despite budgetary limitations and takes advantage of the unseen rather than pissing in the punch with cruddy effects or even worse CGI. West, though, has proven himself capable of handling these two genres of horror--the real and unreal--with ease. Reminiscent of GHOSTBUSTERS by way of POLTERGEIST and maybe a bit of GOONIES thrown in, THE INNKEEPERS shows that West is a movie magician to watch.
And here’s Ti West, talking with me about THE INNKEEPERS!
TI WEST: Hello.
AMBUSH BUG: Hi, Ti? It’s very cool to talk to you. I think I’ve talked to you a couple of times in the past about possibly being on a panel that I’ve had at San Diego.
TW: Yeah, I remember that. At Comic Con or something.
BUG: Yeah, definitely. It’s great to finally touch base with you. Congratulations on THE INNKEEPERS. I just saw it a couple of days ago. It’s a fantastic film. What’s it like having it finished and touring it around right now?
TW: Well we are kind of getting near the end, because it comes out in a couple of weeks. It’s great. I mean I’m definitely ready to get some sleep, but it’s good. Everyone’s been very positive which is all you can really ask for.
BUG: There’s definitely a Spielberg sort of vibe to it. I got a lot of kind of like a POLTERGEIST kind of vibe from it. Was that intentional?
TW: I don’t know. I know a lot of people have said that, but I kind of know what you are talking about in that “Amblin-y” kind of vibe, which I don’t know…I was trying to make a charming ghost story and it’s maybe the level of charm that reminds you of that maybe, but it wasn’t really intentional. I didn’t say to anyone “We are going for that vibe.”
BUG: So what films did you kind of use as influence for this one?
TW: I don’t really do that that much. I think for a couple of visual references I might look at some things, but the only thing that for me personally that was kind of a reference was A CHRISMAS CAROL as far as structure with a ghost story and things like that. We talked about for the music maybe I brought up THE FRIGHTENERS or something like that, maybe because that’s a movie that’s kind of like both funny and scary. And then I guess the obvious are horror movies like THE SHINING or THE CHANGELING to DON’T LOOK NOW and things like that, but I’m not really a “Let’s sit down and watch this and let’s go for that vibe” kind of person. I’m too insecure about what people might think like if I were talked into that.
BUG: Okay. So how did you get the actors for the film? Both of the lead actors did such a great job with their performances with this and I don’t think I’ve seen them in too many films prior to this. Where did you find those guys?
TW: Well, Pat Healy was…I wouldn’t say friend, I just knew him and so I just emailed him directly and sent him the script. He liked HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and he wanted to do this, so it was actually really effortless to do that. I knew he got the sort of sarcastic stocky dry comedy vibe which a lot of people don’t. Then Sara [Paxton] was someone I wasn’t aware of, she went through the normal channel of being submitted by agents and whatnot and we just sort of talked and she really got the movie. When I met her in real life…I wouldn’t say she’s like the character in the movie, but she’s more like that than she is in her other movies and I was surprised by that. For both of them it felt kind of close to home, so I think that’s why they…certainly they are talented and it’s their charisma that’s what makes the movie great, but I think it was a little close to them and it wasn’t a huge stretch for them to play the characters. They were naturally kind of into it.
BUG: And then you have Kelly McGillis kind of rounding out the cast there. How did you get her involved in this movie?
TW: She had done a film called STAKELAND that the producer that I work with had worked with her and we sort of skyped her in London and she got the idea and she was great, because a lot of older actors that I talked to for the part were kind of offended that I would offer them the part, because it’s for an “older actress” and they were like “How dare you think I’m an older actress” and she was just like “I don’t give a shit about that.” So everyone had a good self-deprecating sense of humor as far as the cast and I think that really helped get the vibe across, because it’s such a tone in the movie that not everybody…you would think that more people can do kind of like that dry comedy thing, but it’s harder.
BUG: Sure. I’m a huge fan of the kind of GHOST HUNTERS shows and things like that and there are elements of that in this film. Do you watch that stuff?
TW: I wouldn’t say I watch it as much as I’ve seen it. I mean, there’s definitely a lot of subtle commentary about that stuff in the movie. I find it fascinating that there are four different ghost hunting shows on TV and they are all in at least season 3 if not season 6 and yet every single one of them fail at their job in every episode. They are massive failures and yet they keep getting this…it doesn’t make any sense. I find it totally fascinating.
BUG: And it seems like they all visit the same places too, which is really crazy.
TW: And there is nobody better at finding ghosts with those people, they are the best and they can’t find ghosts, so all that is is proof to me that there is no such thing as ghosts and that’s kind of another thing that…I guess the whole thing is just so bizarre to me, so I didn’t want to sort of comment on that and I also think it’s funny that if those people ever did actually find a ghost I think they would just panic and run away.
BUG: Yeah. I definitely found it to be really entertaining, and I laughed so much during this film, and I was just wondering are there people who saw HOUSE OF THE DEVIL who were not expecting to laugh as much?
TW: I think a lot of people…I mean, I don’t know if you were surprised, but I think for the most part most people are a bit surprised that there’s a lot of comedy in it, but you know, I didn’t need to remake HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, also for me the movie is about the kind of insular trapped world of minimum wage jobs and I find that stuff…I can either make movies or have a minimum wage job, I don’t know how to do anything in the middle. So I’m forever charmed by that lifestyle, because it’s sad, but it’s not that sad, because your life’s not that bad, but you just complain about it. I find that charming, so it was really a big effort to make it a charming, funny, and likeable movie that turns into a ghost movie, because I think if those type characters…I’m interested to see how they react in a ghost story and not necessarily like how horror movie characters react in it, because I’ve seen those enough times. I was trying to put people…if you took the ghost story out, it would have been a fine movie by themselves, but they unfortunately get derailed into the scary stuff.
BUG: Definitely. The characters are really likable. It’s kind of like these two characters have sort of found themselves, like “misery loves company” sort of.
BUG: So what was the budget of this film? It feels like the effects where you had a pretty low amount of effects in there…there are a lot of scares, but a low amount of effects. What went into those decisions?
TW: It was a very low budget movie. I mean it was less than HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, so I’m succeeding backwards, but you know we were just doing the best with what we had.
BUG: Still, the effects that you did have are very effective and it seems like you really were able to amp those scares to the full potential.
TW: Well I tried to focus on what I knew we could do. I knew we could pull all of that stuff off and there’s a few things we tried to stretch, but for the most part I just focused on what I knew we could go to well within that money, but it’s not an effects heavy movie. It is a story about these characters, so it didn’t need to have all of that stuff.
BUG: So with this film, it’s been completed for a while. I remember hearing about this over a year ago and everything. What’s it been like having this distance from the film? Are there things that you would have changed? Are there things you learned from HOUSE OF THE DEVIL that you incorporated into this film?
TW: I mean, you just get better with every movie you make, but it hasn’t done much in the last year since it premiered at SXSW, but for me ever since SXSW every month it’s been in some different film festival somewhere, so I’ve just been kind of doing it for the past whatever that is, seven or eight months, leading up to, I mean it’s out on VOD right now, but leading up to February 3rd that I can finally take a breath. There’s this term “films are never finished, they are just abandoned” and I think that’s true, but it’s more like “It’s on to the next.”
BUG: What is coming up next for you?
TW: Most likely this science fiction movie that looks like it’s getting pretty close. It needs a little bit more money, so it’s taking a little longer.
BUG: I know a lot of filmmakers don’t want to be pigeonholed into being horror directors, but having done two horror films so effectively, is that an offensive term for you or do you plan on continuing to make horror-themed films?
TW: You know, as long as they are my own things it doesn’t bother me. I don’t know how well I would have done with studio remakes or something, because that isn’t that appealing, but doing my own stuff is totally fine.
BUG: Okay. HOUSE OF THE DEVIL was probably one of my favorite films of the last ten years and INNKEEPERS is right up there too. I really loved both of those films and I’m really excited to see what happens next for you.
TW: I appreciate that.
BUG: So when is the film going to be available on DVD?
TW: It’s available now on Video On Demand and it hits theaters on February 3rd.
BUG: Fantastic. Okay, well thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I really appreciate it and congratulations on a great film.
TW: Thank you very much, man. I appreciate it.
See ya, tomorrow, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment. He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and has just released FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) You can order it here! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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Jan. 19, 2012, 11:32 a.m. CST
by Ambush Bug
I don't seek out interviews for films I don't like. Having seen and enjoyed the film, I agreed to do the interview. Had I not enjoyed it so much, I wouldn't have wasted the time. Plus I find with these lesser known films adding a review for reference helps for a more cohesive article to let readers know exactly what we are talking about.
Jan. 19, 2012, 12:05 p.m. CST
Speaking as a fan of late 60's, 70's and early 80's horror primarily, I was a HUGE 'House of the Devil' fan (mainly due to the promise it showed for West's as a long term director). I completely agree with Choppa here - once this guy figures out his voice in horror, I think we will see some great, great things. Having said that, I am excited to watch 'the Innkeepers' and more than happy to contribute to its earnings, because even if it isn't the greatest horror movie of all time, it encourages West to keep making horror. Thanks for the review Bug, I'll definitely check it out in theaters!
Jan. 19, 2012, 12:05 p.m. CST
Never been so disappointed in a horror movie. They clearly think they are channelling Tarantino by having lots of character conversations except these ones have nothing interesting to say, and there is so much build up for no pay off whatsoever. MARVEL as girl goes to get coffee and talks to coffee house girl! GASP as 'three spirits' are mentioned that never come up again! LOSE YOUR SHIT as you have no idea why the ghost was after her! The only thing I can give it in the positive column is the initial ghost hunt the girl does hearing the piano, but it's not enough to bother seeing the movie. I'm a big horror fan, and I love everything from shlock bad horror to the more thoughtful stuff and this doesn't succeed on any level. I was bored out of my fucking mind. It pretends to be one of those movies that wants you to fill in the blanks yourself, but there is too much left unsaid. As mentioned earlier, you can't say something like 'there are three spirits here!' and then have one turn up (the second one doesn't count as he didn't become a spirit till later in the movie)
Jan. 19, 2012, 12:38 p.m. CST
by Ambush Bug
The film is only successful if you attach yourself to these two main characters. If you didn't liek them, I think you'll have the reaction choppah did. But if you fell in love with them as I did, you'll defintiely find it endearing. As West said above, he was trying to achieve a charming ghost story and at least in my opinion, he did just that.
Jan. 19, 2012, 12:40 p.m. CST
...and that glowing review actually got me interested. I loved haunted house flicks as a kid; I could totally get into this.
Jan. 19, 2012, 1:05 p.m. CST
I liked the characters (and the actors that played them) very much but the film itself was dull, middling and above all else simply not scary. It wasn’t utter shit and I appreciate the genuine effort but the movie mostly sat there and did nothing. I have no problem with slow burn narratives but the slower the burn the better the ultimate payoff needs to be. This film doesn’t reward the viewer for trudging through the protracted setup and that’s a cardinal sin for a horror film. I was expecting something much more but to reiterate it wasn’t horrible, just…slow and not very engaging.
Jan. 19, 2012, 1:06 p.m. CST
by Ambush Bug
Did you get a POLTERGEIST/Amblin vibe throughout? More fun scares but suggesting real danger for the characters.
Jan. 19, 2012, 2:52 p.m. CST
Seems to be one of those Marmite movies…
Jan. 19, 2012, 3:24 p.m. CST
I know everyone wants to love this movie - I do love that he really does try to set up characters and take them seriously, and let the horror come from that. But I found both the lead characters to be fairly unlikeable - especially the dude. And while the set up and ambiance are fun - the actual ghost stuff is like something you'd hear about on a episode of ghost hunters. It's not scary, it's not funny, it's not romantic - and it's got one of the most anti-climactic endings I've seen in ages.
Jan. 19, 2012, 6:01 p.m. CST
by Wesley Green
Let me preface this by saying I really dug Ti's THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. I thought it was one of the better horror films of the last five years. That is why I found THE INNKEEPERS to be such a disappointment. I'm all for mood, character development, and mystery. Judging from his interviews for this flick, I imagine that is what he was aiming for. But it just didn't jive at all. I totally agree with what an earlier post about there being no payoff at the end and they are totally right. There isn't any! It's like wham-bam-I'm-outta-here. Maybe I was expecting there to be more to the story, like a big reveal which would blow my mind. But there was nothing. I know Ti is a great filmmaker so I'll still watch his movies when they are available. But this one... I would suggest watching it with low expectations.
Jan. 19, 2012, 6:12 p.m. CST
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