A typical Ti West horror movie ignores most modern horror movie tropes.
West’s films don’t involve gallons of gore, nor do they deliver fake scares meant to keep us on edge. And they take the time to allow us to feel for the characters soon to be in harm’s way.
With “The Innkeepers,” West’s latest foray into the macabre, the writer/director challenges conventional wisdom once more. The titular inn isn’t remotely scary. It’s downright quaint, as West describes it to Big Hollywood.
“That was the challenge, and my interest, in doing this, to see if you could make a movie in a quaint, nonthreatening hotel and still make that scary,” West says. “It goes against everything you do in horror movies.”
“The Innkeepers,” out on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow, is what West calls a “charming ghost story” about two 20-somethings left to watch over an inn on its final days in business. The place is about be shut down, and there are only a few guests still remaining. That gives Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) more than enough time to let their imaginations run wild about rumored ghost stories about the building, some of which could actually be true.
West was intrigued by focusing on minimum wage drones, the type who snack on sandwiches packed in aluminum foil and kill time with comic banter. Their humdrum gig doesn’t stay quiet for long, forcing them to confront something far above their pay grade.
Claire and Luke aren’t friends by choice. They’re stuck together and are making the best of it. The light sexual tension between them is just one of many small pleasures lurking in this inn. It’s a situation West finds relatable, especially by focusing on Paxton’s less obvious side.
The writer/director says he was nicely surprised to learn Paxton was a “goofball” in person, so unlike her glamorous screen image in movies like “Shark Night” and “The Last House on the Left.” So he decided to use her clumsy vulnerability to shape her character.
“I’m going to exploit all of this because no one else is,” says West, whose previous film, “The House of Devil,” earned its fair share of glowing reviews.
“The Innkeepers” keeps viewers unbalanced by a combination of evolving frights and unadorned plotting, but it helps that West’s camera placement transforms ordinary hallways into menacing tunnels of light and dark. West says he shows up to the set with a loose understanding of the camera angles he intends to use for a particular scene. He often readjusts as the situation demands.
“Sometimes I would do these really elaborate, complicated shots, but it was getting in the way [of the story]. So I’d back off, and it would feel better,” he says.
Modern horror movies, like the “Scream” franchise and “The Cabin in the Woods,” spend as much time commenting on the genre as scaring us silly. West is delighted to see an original horror film like “Woods” succeed, but he has little interest exploring the post-modern horror realm.
“It’s making the audience so aware that they’re watching a movie they can’t fully engage,” he says.