Composed with restraint, obvious talent and populated with believable characters, The Innkeepers is a minimalist version of The Shining. Like Kubrick’s eerie classic, it’s set in a near-abandoned hotel, but here it’s a small inn in a small town. The Yankee Pedlar Inn may not have the intimidating grandeur of The Overlook Hotel, but director Ti West gets a lot of mileage out of stretching corridors and deserted dining rooms.
There’s a ghost story here, but it takes a while to arrive. The first act is more like an indie dramedy (including a brief cameo from Lena Dunham). The innkeepers, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are actually searching for ghosts, hoping to bring in paranormal-obsessed customers in and boost business.
West doesn’t rely on jump scares, and the ghost story clichés, while present, are used well (the ever-present psychic gives enigmatic predictions rather than clunky exposition). In fact, a great deal of the narrative is ambiguous – like The Shining, it’s possible to interpret the film as not involving ghosts at all. This ambiguity is refreshing – too many horror films over-explain – but is also a limitation, as the film left me with too many unanswered questions by its conclusion.