What West has done with The Innkeepers is craft an understated, deeply scary film about detached characters obsessed with searching for answers and falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy, culminating in one of the most frightening conclusions in recent horror memory. And even then, not all that much happens. You could boil The Innkeepers down to its essence and have a fairly short, relatively familiar campfire ghost story, but West simply nails the execution. He puts the flashlight under his chin and milks the spooky bits with silent tension. This is that rare kind of horror movie that actually makes you scream, “Don’t go in there!” Propriety prevented me from actually calling that out at my screening, but I genuinely had to stop myself. As West’s camera lurks through corridors and threatens to reveal terror behind every door, you will crane your neck to try to get a jump on what feels like an inevitable shock. West also knows not to actually give you that shock every single time, so that whenever there’s actually something to terrify you it achieves maximum effect.
But The Innkeepers isn’t perfect, it just offers perfect scares. The story is minute in stature, and amounts to little beyond an eerie character study. It purports to be a horror comedy, but feels so grounded in realism that it strikes me more as a supernatural drama that just happens to have some funny characters in it.. And you could argue that the ending doesn’t amount to very much, and you’d be right, but getting there was such an unnerving experience that I didn’t particularly. It’s a slight film, arguably more insubstantial than it could have been, but The Innkeepers is so focused on infecting the theater with its deathly tone that you’ll get through at least one without second guessing any of its minor imperfections.