Though the overall tone is more jovial, THE INKEEPERS is built much like TI WEST’s last effort THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. It’s a long sturdy corridor with a dark trap door waiting at the end and if you want your dessert, you’re going to have to clean your plate. I doubt this sits well with every horror fan but I appreciate the elbow room on this ride. It’s like an old fashioned wooden roller coaster; you may not fear for your life but how can you resist the view? About midway through THE INKEEPERS, I had the weirdest thought ever. I thought that even if the horror never came, even if this movie was just the tale of two co-workers working at an inn that’s seen better days, I’d be fine with that. That’s how well done WEST’s set up is and that’s how much I liked the characters. I was all prepared to text the ghosts and tell them not to bother to show up. Dear ghosts, since you’re tardy to the party anyway, how’s ‘bout we just reschedule?
It’s not every day that I prefer living humans to shrieking ghouls. As much as I dug PAT HEALY’s turn as aloof slacker Luke and KELLY McGILLIS as an atypical, non-wacky singed on the edges psychic, it’s easily saucer-eyed, quirky-dork SARA PAXTON as Claire who runs away with the show entire. She’s such a fucking genius that she transforms a short bit about taking a bag of trash to the dumpster into the most brilliant thing I’ve seen in eons. (Truly, I caught up with several comedies recently and nothing and nobody made me snort out loud like PAXTON.) She’ll probably read too waif/adorable for some but I can’t remember the last time I viewed a performance so effortlessly egoless and effervescent. PAXTON’s Claire is a serious breath of fresh air forgoing heroics and martyrdom for something more akin to Nancy Drew by way of THE GHOST AND MR CHICKEN. Having now met Claire/PAXTON, I feel I can finally get over the death of DON KNOTTS and move on.
If you want to stare into the mouth of hell, have your sensibilities pushed to their limit and be left crawling on all fours fearing for your very soul, this is not your jam but if you’re interested in a breezy, semi-spooky good time then you’re all set. For me, when WEST finally does decide to trade deliberate abstinence for unbridled ruckus horror, he’s not entirely successful. Our ghosts when they do barge in, are mildly mundane. One is wearing a been-there done-that wedding dress and the other is snatched directly from THE SENTINEL. It’s an interesting idea to show these guys as starkly and clearly as he does after so much under the table footsie-play but on a gut level I would have preferred them to remain more obtuse and ethereal. I guess that’s the minus side of being so adept at orchestrating anticipation, it’s hard for the payoff not to be a smidge anticlimactic. That said, it’s not the destination but the journey that is relevant and there are certainly enough unnerving moments to recommend THE INKEEPERS particularly to ghost story fans.
THE INKEEPERS is now available on VOD and should see some more theater play come February. It’s not the scariest horror flick of the year but I think it’s one of the better more entertaining ones anyway. Yes! I’m thinking that horror films have more to offer than just scare value alone! I’m not sure if I like that idea but there it is just sitting in my head. THE INKEEPERS (not unlike HOUSE OF THE DEVIL ) expertly collects apprehension like honey from a hive and I don’t think you need to be stung all over the face to sense how sweet and vitalizing it is. Better yet, if a better scene of a person taking a bag of trash out to the dumpster exists anywhere I’ll eat my hat and I’ll eat yours too. Now, somebody in Hollywood, I need an OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE remake starring SARA PAXTON and EMMA STONE in the can by this time next year; all I’m asking for is a producer credit.