Admittedly, it's been a long time since Kelly McGillis was being hyped as "the next Grace Kelly." But of all the films in all the world for whom the former Top Gun lust object could have done a walk-on, this lacklustre haunted-house feature is the one she chooses?
Now 54, McGillis plays a retired TV/film star who's come to the Yankee Pedlar Inn in an unidentified Connecticut town, ostensibly to speak at some sort of fan convention in nearby Pottstown. Thing is, it's the inn's last weekend: After 120 or so years catering to a steadily dwindling clientele, it's closing its creaky doors forever.
About the only people still hanging around are the two slacker doofuses running the front desk (Sara Paxton, Pat Healy), a mother and son taking a breather from a strained marriage, the grumpy McGillis and a last-minute arrival in the form of a shuffling senior who, "out here for one last bit of nostalgia," insists on having the same room in which he and his wife honeymooned.
Of course, there are other, well . . . presences on the premises. We know this because indie director Ti West ( The House of the Devil) cues and cranks up the tried-and-true denotative effects of the genre: distorted voices, weird noises, things going bump in the night, menacing music, slow zooms, the now-standard behind-the-back tracking shot and . . . a piano playing Chopin by itself !
Seems that decades ago a woman hanged herself in the inn in her bridal gown after her fiancé stood her up on their wedding day. Lore has it that Madeline O'Malley's "restless spirit" has haunted the hotel since. Now with closing day and presumably the wrecking ball looming, ghostbusters Claire (Paxton) and Luke (Healy) are breaking out the cameras and the super-sensitive unidirectional microphones to gather the evidence.
Wouldn't you know that McGillis's character also has an interest in the paranormal? Her "true calling," in fact, is no longer acting – it's psychic healing and prognostication, aided by a crystal-shaped pendant dangling from a necklace. "I can help you communicate with spirits in the hotel," she tells her hosts. Just don't call them ghosts, with its implication of the unreal. "There is no real in this world. It is all a state of being!"
West seems to want to play much of this hokum for laughs. How else to honour lines as hoary as "You mustn't go down to the basement" and "We must leave this hotel; you are in grave danger" – when, of course, it's de rigueur that someone must go to either the basement or the attic to face the danger?
Moreover, as the film flails back and forth from deconstructionist send-up to wink-wink homage, gag-fest to (semi)gross-out, we're left with enough loose ends to knit a sweater (sleeveless). Are we to conclude that there really is a supernatural source to the mayhem? Has the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining relocated to the Yankee Pedlar?
Or are Luke and Claire highly suggestible dweebs, locked in some pulp-fiction folie à deux where each is messing with the other's head? Is the apparently amiable Luke actually a creep? Are he and McGillis in cahoots? When he says, "Everything happens for a reason, Claire," and "Everyone needs a taste of their own medicine once in a while," is this folk wisdom – or a sinister intimation of bad things?
And speaking of medicine: Is it really an anti-asthma drug in the nebulizer from which Claire incessantly inhales, or something more hallucinatory? West's "answer" in each case is maybe.
Having had its world premiere last spring at the SXSW festival in Texas, then a bow in Canada in October at Toronto After Dark, it's clear The Innkeepers is being positioned as a possible cult fave. Indeed, with this commercial run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, we're being tipped that the Lightbox wants to be seen as something more than a site for serious cinema – it wants its fun as well, in the spirit of its popular Midnight Madness program. Nothing wrong with that; it's just too bad, innit, that The Innkeepers isn't much of a keeper.
The Innkeepers begins a limited engagement on Friday at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox.
- Written, directed and edited by Ti West
- Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis
- Classification: NA
- 1.5 stars