Tuesday, May 29, 2012
It's too hot out to write, but I'm going for it anyway. Also, I should mention, this post will likely have spoilers, so if you want to see THE INNKEEPERS, stay clear until after the movie.
I'm fascinated by ghost stories. Though I've never had anything close to resembling a ghostly encounter, I love hearing about them from friends and am always eager to see a good ghost story unfold on film. I don't know exactly why I'm drawn to them, but I sense its just, like for most people, the excitement and fear over something fantastical burrowing its way into and upsetting humdrum reality. We're all looking for some form of fantasy or escapism to feed our imagination upon. I think the idea of ghosts provides that in very physical, immediate, and frightening way. The philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his book THE POETICS OF SPACE talks about how our thoughts about the space around us can, in fact, transform it for us. If you walk into a house and some one tells you its haunted, you are going to imagine the space of that house much differently then if no one had told you a thing about it. I think that's where the excitement in ghost stories comes from–its in the imagination and anticipation of something unreal making itself real before us.
Watching a good ghost story on film is just like being in a house you've been told is haunted. Your imagination comes in and helps tell the story for you. If you're watching a character sitting in a room, and you know the room is haunted, you've already transformed the space you are seeing onscreen in anticipation of something extraordinary happening. At this point, all you need is a good director to sort of gather these feelings and build upon them.
The best thing I can say about THE INNKEEPERS is that it nurtures imagination and anticipation to give strong moments of excitement and dread. Ti West is one of the most astute horror directors I've encountered in a while. With this film, he seems to really understand the importance of slowly applying tension as the best means to create suspense and terror. There are a few visceral moments toward the end of the film, but most of it is composed of quieter moments where a simple sound is all one needs to start sweating over. I think that's why this film works. It's an intimate, simple, unadorned, good old-fashioned haunted house thriller. It's formulaic, but it executes its formula with aplomb. It doesn't seem overly ambitious, just sort of smart and concise. It's refreshing to say the least. How many horror films does one see nowadays that are this devoted to methodically tightening that taut rope of dread? This is a surely a patient film, and it provides rewards freely. It's also in love with THE SHINING, and really, there's no better horror film to emulate. Dolly shots down long, tortuous hallways, and slow, methodical pans can create an uncanny and sinister sense of space–something the film knows well.
There are a few great moments in the film that completely had me sitting up in my chair and my nails between my teeth. The entire scene with Claire and Luke in the basement is gold. The moment Claire tells Luke that the ghost of Madeleine O'Malley is right behind him and you see the look on Luke's face–goddamn, I had an enormous cringing smile on my face. It's such a great instance of pure horror. Luke's reaction is essentially the one I would have as well.
Another great moment is the first sighting of Madeleine in Claire's bed, when all you see is just a sheet rising beside Claire. It's the sort of suspense-inducing effect that is used often, but to me it's a terrific reveal. It's much scarier than merely having something pop out at you. That moment of abeyance before the character realizes what we have just realized is priceless (Also, the moment after Claire sees the ghost and the alarm clock goes off, she gives out this dorky yelp that is also priceless).
And apart from the technical aspects of the film, I think what Brandon briefly wrote on Facebook about the character development is particularly salient. The relationship between Claire and Luke is fun, funny, and really whimsical. You almost just want to hang out with them at the Inn, have some beers with them, and fuck around with the ghosts. There's a human appeal to Claire and Luke that makes them more than just horror archetypes. As Tom Waits would say, they're just plain folks. And it's great to see. The lead girl, Sara Paxton, who plays Claire, in particular, is surprisingly really likable. She’s cute, spunky, and kind of goofy. There's a natural awkwardness to her that actually makes you care about her. She's got nuance.
Anyway, this is a strong horror film. It's not groundbreaking, but it is effective, efficient, and intelligent filmmaking. It's also got some real endearing character work. Brandon's right from his earlier review; it's something that I think even non-horror fans would be able to appreciate. Except for John. There's no chance he'll like it. But any gore-haters out there should be charmed.
Also, your '37 response was awesome, Brandon. A great read. I don't have a lot to write back because I agree with just about everything you wrote. Here's a few thoughts though:
I would certainly add THE GREAT ESCAPE to the shortlist of the best POW films. It's a great one. I think you're right about finding companionship amidst the terror/hopelessness of imprisonment being one of the POW genre's emotional hallmarks. It's through friendship that we always see the light out of the darkness. One of my favorite things about THE GREAT ESCAPE is the sense that even if Charles Bronson and James Coburn are the only two to actually escape, it was all still worth it. And it will be worth trying again. The camaraderie of that film and the others like it it teaches that success for even one would be a success for all. It's every man for each other.
"I love it when black and white films have a snowy rural chapter don’t you?" Totally. There's one in MR. AND MRS. SMITH and it's the best part of the film.
I really need to see EASY LIVING.
I don't have a great explanation for either THE AWFUL TRUTH or NOTHING SACRED. THE AWFUL TRUTH I just saw in between too many movies and have a hard time recalling why I liked it so much. As much as I love the remarriage genre, they have an unfortunate tendency to blend together. I need to see THE AWFUL TRUTH again to remind me why it stands out. And NOTHING SACRED is just all about my love for Carole Lombard. Simple as that. She's the best, and the film just charmed me. I don't really have an intellectual or auteurist defense for it, even though William Wellman is a really good director.
Also, you're definitely right about two-time Palme D'or winning Haneke (haha) and FUNNY GAMES. My interpretation solely works in some fantasy netherworld between me and the film and no where else. Even accepting everything awful about the intention of FUNNY GAMES, I kinda still like it a lot. I guess it just doesn't ruffle my feathers enough to make me not have a good time with it. Or perhaps there's an arrogant mean streak in me that the film nurses just right. I don't know. I did see it while attending Binghamton University–the most misanthropic period of my life. If you imagine the film chastising BU kids, it suddenly turns into the most feel-good film of all time.