Deftly orchestrating bone-chilling scares like a maniacal maestro, director Ti West feels it’s just as rewarding to present audiences with a sincere measure of respect.
His latest film, “The Innkeepers,” arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from MPI Media Group and Dark Sky Films on April 24. West wrote, directed and edited the film, which follows two hotel employees, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), as they attempt to unlock the mystery behind their employer’s haunted New England business. Meanwhile, a psychic, played by Kelly McGillis (“Top Gun,” “Stake Land”), offers a grim warning about their investigation.
After shaking up the horror genre with his 2009 film “The House of the Devil,” West gained considerable attention for his style of slow-burn horror, which involves long takes and deliberately paced scenes and takes cues from the spookier side of Roman Polanski (“Rosemary’s Baby”) and Stanley Kubrick (“The Shining”).
But part of his work’s appeal for audiences may come from the genre’s tendency, especially with mainstream films, to aim for the lowest common denominator, according to West.
“I like to think that I really respect the audience and don’t have to give them a lot of extraneous information or I don’t have to spoon feed them things, and we can all just wait for the things to happen,” West told our sister site Rabid Doll in a recent interview. “That is my taste … And I’m really just trying to make sure that everything that I’m doing is authentic and feels realistic. If it’s appealing to me I just imagine it will be appealing to other people.”
For “The Innkeepers,” West also wanted to contrast the scares with an additional dimension: some laughs. He set out to make a workplace comedy that turns into a horror movie.
“The real goal of this movie is that I wanted to make a charming horror movie,” West explained. “I don’t really know if I’ve seen many … And I wanted to make a movie about minimum wage jobs and … the feeling of being stuck in minimum wage jobs. Your not digging ditches, but it kinda sucks. But you get kinda apathetic because of it. There is really no room for growth and there is nowhere to go. And you find yourself not really having any real aspirations. And you feel stuck. I thought that was a good juxtaposition to a ghost story, because it is the same.
“I felt like I had something to say about that, and I think it was relatable to a lot of people. … And it would be a good way to like and really relate to the characters so when the ghost story kicks off you feel attached to them and it elevates the horror elements because you care.”
West found inspiration for “The Innkeepers” while he and his crew stayed in the The Yankee Pedlar Inn in Connecticut during the filming of “The House of the Devil.” The inn, which opened its doors in 1891, is supposedly haunted, and a ghost tale was just what West sought for his next project. After completing the script, he secured permission to shoot the film at the inn before the tourist season rush.
“So we kinda lived our own ghost story when we were there; so it was kind of easy to write it pretty quickly, and it was easy to know that the real location existed,” he said.
But bringing his story to life hinged on his casting choices. He knew Healy’s work, but was not familiar with his key lead, Paxton.
“What was fascinating about that was when she showed up I didn’t have a bunch of expectations,” West said. “And then this really goofy, awkward, clumsy girl showed up. And it was like totally jarring because I did not anticipate that at all. It was the last thing that I thought she would have been. But it was very endearing and I was fascinated by it.
“And I watched her movies and she wasn’t like that in her movies, and I was like ‘Oh my god, these people really missed out by not exploiting her most charismatic trait.’ And I thought ‘I better go do it.'”
With Paxton comfortably slipping into her role, West now looked to the use of audio and music to shake up her character’s quest to contact the hotel’s supernatural presence.
“Music is really important for any genre, but horror specifically,” he explained. “It definitely helps to elevate it. I’ve worked with the same composer and sound designer forever; so I actually leave a lot of space in the movie, in the soundtrack to like continue the narrative, which a lot of people do not do.
“In this movie particularly I wanted to do things where you go into a character’s perspective, but just from an audio standpoint. Because I have never seen that before. And I was tired of movies setting up video cameras in the Paranormal Activity model. I felt like if I did something like that I would just be derivative of that. So I thought when we watch these ghost hunting shows they are always trying to record EDP, and I was like well ‘Why don’t we make a movie where that is the main tool and not the video camera.'”
“The Innkeepers” marks West’s fifth horror production since his directing debut with the 2005 film “The Roost.” He finds the experimental nature of the genre attractive.
“The way you tell that story can be done in an infinite amount of ways, where like a romantic comedy you can’t so much,” he said. “I think that it’s a genre that leaves for a filmmaker the room to explore whatever you want.
“The problem is that I think that most people don’t do that. They are just derivative of every successful horror movie that has come out previously. For me, what is appealing is that there are kinda no rules in the genre. It’s freeing for a filmmaker.”
See more of West’s interview — including his future projects, the state of horror and his thoughts on a sequel to “The House of the Devil” — at our sister site Rabid Doll.
Read Rabid Doll’s review of “The Innkeepers” here.