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The Innkeepers Is an Underwatched Ti West Gem

Before Pearl, before X, there was The Innkeepers.

By Matthew Jackson

Ti West is a patient filmmaker. Through all of the various genres he's explored over the last two decades, he's exhibited a kind of laidback style that lets the viewer soak slowly into the world he's building, until sometimes it's too late to get out. We get comfortable in his worlds through dialogue, through style, through a sense of character that's helped along by his casts. Then, in the case of the horror films he's made, he springs a trap on us.

RELATED: Ti West and Mia Goth on Bringing Pearl to Life

When it comes to early horror work from West, most fans turn to House of the Devil, his ode to '80s horror cinema and occult terror, and there's certainly good reason for that. It's a remarkable film, full of tension and unease and anchored by great work from Jocelin Donahue. But for all its greatness, The House of the Devil is not the only game in town when it comes to Ti West's early horror output. There's also the underseen gem that is The Innkeepers, streaming now on Peacock

Why Now Is a Great Time to Revisit Ti West's The Innkeepers

As the title suggests, the film takes on a fairly straightforward haunted hotel narrative, with an interesting twist. It follows Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), the last remaining employees at a once-prosperous hotel that's open for just one more weekend. There are barely any guests in sight, and the owner is on vacation while awaiting the final sale of the place, so Claire and Luke fill their time in other ways, namely searching for evidence of ghosts in the building, which Luke puts up on the internet in hopes of nabbing attention and, maybe, some money. 

But of course, all is not as it seems on this final weekend of hotel operation. The presence of a retired actress turned medium (Kelly McGillis) suggests there's more to the ghosts than simple local legend, and Claire is growing more and more interested in Luke's ghost-hunting hobby. Meanwhile, a mysterious guest checks in for one last time, and Claire digs deeper into hotel lore, where consequences just might be waiting. 

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With The House of the Devil, West and his cast dive almost instantly into a sense of pulsing urgency, of tension that just won't quit even before anything remotely frightening has actually happened. With The Innkeepers, it's almost the opposite. The film settles into a slow, warm, comfortable pace that almost makes it feel like a hangout movie, as Claire and Luke grapple with the doldrums of their last work days at the hotel, get drunk together, and debate the realities of ghosts. When the frightening things start to kick in around them, it comes not just as a surprise, but as a disruption, a discordant strike in the midst of all the calm. It's understated even by Ti West standards, but it works.

That's thanks in no small part to Paxton and Healy, who navigate the slow rise in tension and dread with grace and vulnerability, opening themselves up to the camera as regular people caught in something extraordinary. With them on board, West is able to truly take his time, giving us knowable and approachable characters that we don't mind spending time with, then pushing things into dark territory by slow degrees, moving closer and closer to something shocking until it feels inevitable. It's a remarkable slow burn, and the rewards are worth the wait.

So, the next time you feel like taking in some 2010s indie horror, give The Innkeepers another look... then maybe stay away from old hotels for a bit.

The Innkeepers is now streaming on Peacock.