Monday, April 18, 2016

The Plight of the Over-Eager Ghost Hunter, or Thoughts on Sara Paxton in The Innkeepers

Old hotels, schools and theaters are notoriously haunted.  Anywhere where large groups of people interacted, laughed, loved and cried is bound to pick up a few ghost stories, given enough time.  The setting of an old hotel over a long weekend is used to great effect in The Innkeepers (2011), written and directed by Ti West from You’re Next (2011) and The House of the Devil (2009). 
Sara Paxton (the mermaid in Aquamarine 2006) plays Claire, an awkward, asthmatic, over-imaginative, slacker ghost hunter working front desk of the The Yankee Pedlar Inn, an actual historic 1891 Connecticut hotel that looks haunted enough with it’s narrow hallways and winding stairs.  Together with ghost-nerd skeptic Luke, played by Pat Healey like an American Simon Pegg, they work the front desk and run a website on paranormal phenomenon on the side.  But really they’re just bored co-workers in a dead-end job, unsupervised and with goofy rituals to pass the time.
The movie is a slow burn with lots of set up but not boring thanks to Sara Paxton’s natural charisma; she immediately has the viewer’s sympathy, we want to follow her.  But that doesn’t stop the cheap jump scares with ringing phones and websites to break tension and give you a taste of what’s to come.  It’s almost a horror comedy for the first half, with Sara’s natural comedic talent and the director setting up the audience with timing and manipulation, which are the same elements that make for a good scary movie.
Ghost hunting must be a lot like cops on a stakeout, a lot of boring moments waiting for something to happen.  Claire is so eager for an experience that she grabs the camcorder with every unexplained bump in the night, wanting to investigate but also afraid.  The EVP recording scenes build tension even with nothing happening because we as an audience know something will happen; the movie has an unspoken pact with us, this is a ghost story.  When Claire finally starts hearing voices and the piano starts playing by itself we’re just as curiously frightened as she is.
The second half ramps up the tension as Claire’s heightened state and obsession with witnessing a supernatural event sends her and the audience to a very dark place.  It’s quirky, clever ghost story, and a proponent of the less is more school.  The frights are crafted through careful editing and sound effects, and in many ways is a more realistic version of a be careful what you wish for situation for the would-be ghost hunter.

A then unknown Lena Dunham has a scene-stealing role as an annoying barista Claire has to deal with, and 80’s superstar Kelly McGillis (you remember Kelly; Top Gun, Witness and The Accused) plays a New Age psychic who warns Claire to stay away from the basement, so you immediately know where she needs to go next.



my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.