In much the same way, many people might watch The Innkeepers and not think of it as horror either. The film takes place in The Yankee Pedlar,
an old, small town Connecticut hotel where two desk clerks, Claire and Luke (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) are working the inn's final weekend before it
closes for good, riding out the endless hours on a wave of ennui and apathy. There isn't much for them to do. No more than two rooms are ever occupied
at any one time during the weekend. As Luke observes, it's not hard to figure out why they're going out of business.
Faced with a whole lot of time to kill, the pair turns to some amateur ghost hunting at the reputedly haunted Pedlar. Luke has previously encountered
the spirits who are said to haunt the hotel's hallways, and is attempting to monetize his otherworldly contact by collecting some evidence for a rather
hilariously amateurish website he's building. Claire, who's never seen any strange occurrences herself, is an enthusiastic assistant, mostly because
she has little else going on in her life.
That absence of direction is what The Innkeepers is really about, and where its real horror lies. West's film is a visual manifestation of the trapped
psychology and the deeply unsettling anxieties of the aimless. He accomplishes this with cleverly placed peripheral characters that he describes as
"representations of where you can go in life." One of the hotel's rooms is occupied by a mother and her young son; she's having marital trouble and
needs to get away from home for a few days. Another is a barista saddled with relationship problems so tedious to hear about that Claire bolts the
coffee shop without even getting her drink when forced to listen to them. A sad old man shows up after the death of his wife to spend one last night in
the room where they had their honeymoon decades ago. All roads lead back to the Pedlar. Add in the ghost of a bride who committed suicide in one of the
rooms, and one can't even escape after death.
Of course, representing the fear of existential inertia onscreen necessarily means that for much of The Innkeepers, not a whole lot happens.
Claire and Luke talk. There's an occasional interaction with the guests. Claire and Luke talk some more. If there's such a thing as a mumblecore horror
film, this is it. Only unlike the ramshackle amateurish aesthetic that often defines that indie sub-genre, West's film feels meticulously planned out.
"I wanted to make a very traditional, old-fashioned ghost story with really modern, kind of nerdy-esque characters who didn't really belong in it," he
says. And The Innkeepers has a convincing classical feel, as West's camera glides around the lobby and the corridors of the Pedlar with a
ghost-like grace that recalls a more genteel era of scary movie.
West's ability to twist familiar, out-of-fashion genre conventions to his own ends is quickly becoming a trademark. In the feature that really put him
on the map, 2009's House of the Devil, West paid homage to '80s horror staples: the lone babysitter as the target of evil, and the satanic
cult as the vehicle of evil. That film—which captured the fervent love of its small but devoted audience so quickly that the AV Club's Scott Tobias
declared it a New Cult Classic a mere four months after its release—bucked the modern horror trend of needing to constantly shock the audience into terror. Instead, West ratchets up the tension with a pace so deliberate
that less patient viewers conditioned to thrill-a-minute horror found it a little boring. Those willing to submit to West's expert control of timing
and tone were treated to a masterpiece of slow-burn terror.