by Patricia Grandjean
Feb 3, 2012
01:11 PMBox Office
You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave
Tyro director Ti West is establishing a reputation for himself as a master of mood manipulation. In his 2009 movie The House of the Devil—in which a college-age babysitter learns she's been "baited" for use in a satanic ritual—he revealed a talent for making any space look sinister; the same goes for The Innkeepers, except this time the space is largely interior. What makes this of interest to Connecticut audiences is that Innkeepers was filmed entirely at Torrington's venerable Yankee Pedlar Inn, in which West had stayed during his Devil shoot.
"We would drive every day to make a satanic horror movie, but weirder things happened at the hotel," he told Entertainment Weekly. "You had weird dreams. The phone would ring and no one would be there. A year later I wanted to make a ghost story. It occurred to me: What if I made the one I lived?" The results have garnered decidedly mixed reviews. While EW critic Lisa Schwarzbaum graded the film a B+ and Roger Ebert lauded West's skill in "building suspense with quiet and timing," New York magazine critic David Edelstein could only muster enthusiasm for "de-glammed" star Sara Paxton's "wonderful funny and gawky" turn as innkeeper Claire. (I have to agree that this is a big step up from 2009's grisly The Last House on the Left—in which she started out glam and was turned into human hamburger. But I suspect the jury is out on Paxton until later this year, when she appears in the big-screen remake of '60s TV series "The Big Country" as Audra Barkley, playing against Jessica Lange and Aidan Quinn.)
Anyway, director West is pretty handy at character development, and Paxton plays naturally and pertly with co-star Pat Healy as Luke, the fellow front-desk jockey with the modified Ed Grimley hair. The movie also reveals his flair with red herrings and visual jokes (the last shot of the movie plays off of one of the first with cocky style). He knows his way around a hommage (I caught what I thought were nods to a number of thriller chillers, from Wait Until Dark to The Shining) and he obviously enjoyed exploring all the lore around the real Yankee Pedlar's haunted history (well described at Damned Connecticut), even if his fictional Pedlar seems set in a New Jersey/Pennsylvania border town. Ultimately, though, the movie's core message seems no deeper than the tame admonition, "Don't play with forces you don't understand."
Nevertheless, for Torrington, the movie's general theatrical release is the perfect excuse to celebrate, and so it shall: Downtown's Warner Theatre will host two gala screenings Feb. 8 at 7:30 and 10 (tickets $12 & $15; the first show is already sold out) coupled with pre- and after-premiere parties at the Yankee Pedlar, complete with a paranormal booth, appetizers, live entertainment and a chance to mingle with West, Paxton and Healy, who will all be in attendance (tickets $25). The Warner premiere is not truly a premiere, however—the film already made the rounds of film festivals last year, winning a "Best" designation at Toronto After Dark, and it's been part of Amazon's Instant Video collection since Dec. 30. Not to mention, it opened this weekend nationwide, and is currently playing at New Haven's Bow-Tie Criterion Cinemas. But really, what could be more fun than heading to the Litchfield Hills and partying like you're at Hotel California?You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave