MIFF 2011: Why I Didn't Think Much Of The Innkeepers

What kind of cinephile am I? One that skips watching films to end up sitting around drinking and talking about them. That's pretty much how today began. Of course I feel like my decision was entirely vindicated as we began to see more and more familiar faces appear in the festival lounge who apparently had walked out of the film we had chosen to miss. Seems drinking in the festival lounge was a better choice than watching POST MORTEM.
I also had the opportunity to meet Ti West (director of THE INNKEEPERS & HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) who revealed himself to be an utterly charming man with some really good perspectives on film (he found SNOWTOWN to be deeply affecting, traumatic and well-made but strangely pointless, an argument I ultimately agree with despite my fondness for the film). He took part in the following panel at the lounge and went on to criticize the latest genre cause celebre A SERBIAN FILM for being exploitative and over-the-top. He amusingly described a baby in one of the film's key scenes as looking like a silly cabbage patch doll. Did I mention I now like Ti West?
Going into his latest film THE INNKEEPERS, I really wanted to love it. His previous effort HOUSE OF THE DEVIL has built a pretty avid following but I personally was left pretty cold by it. I remember my first viewing and appreciating some of its retro-aesthetics but ultimately thinking, "Is that it? Is that the film everyone is going on about?". After the response from THE INNKEEPERS' first screening on the weekend I was excited in the hopes I would finally love a Ti West film and be able to hang out with the cool kids.
So it pains me to say that THE INNKEEPERS is just O.K. It's nice, pleasant, well-made, slightly scary and generally rather entertaining but that's about it. Not particularly memorable in any way and again I was left with the feeling, "What am I missing? Why is everyone going mad over these films?". I understand what West is doing with his films. I understand the nostalgic retro stylings. I greatly appreciated THE INNKEEPERS early to mid 90s low budget vibe. At times it felt like a haunted house telemovie from 1994 (this is a positive comment and not a slight on the film) which was cool. The score in particular excited me greatly with its big violin centred orchestral sweeps like we haven't heard for 15 years.
West coaxes some great performances out of his cast, particularly Sarah Paxton who nails a cute, spunky vibe perfectly. The film's sense of restraint is also admirable as West slowly but surely builds his suspense in ways that structurally resemble his previous film, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. Unlike the recent INSIDIOUS, which decides to go bat-shit crazy in its final act (to the film's detriment), THE INNKEEPERS prefers to keep things ambiguous. This is an admirable decision on West's part but it also results in a film that never really stretches itself. It seems content with being a small, simple scare film which is nice but again, nothing to write home about.
After my indifference to HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and now this, I must conclude that I simply don't get Ti West films. I can see they are made with great care & attention to detail. Formally they are always top notch but in the end I am usually left with the sense that there isn't much there.. They come across as slight, passable and entertaining films but I don't think twice about once they finish and THE INNKEEPERS is no exception. Ti is an incredibly nice guy though, and I feel it's only a matter of time before he hits one out of the park.
I'm sorry cool kids. Can we still hang out?