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MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on DVDs. The Innkeepers

THE INNKEEPERS (Three Stars)
U.S.: Ti West, 2011

A neat little horror movie that keeps trying to remind us of The Shining, The Innkeepers pulls us instead into a creepy world of failing hotels and troubled economies and weird guests and mildly obsessed hotel co-workers — the wreckage and mildly rotting corpse of a New England tradition that‘s older than Stephen King (or Bronx kid Stanley Kubrick for that matter). The locale is the Yankee Pedlar Inn, reputed to be haunted, and due to be shuttered forever after this night‘s occupancy. In what little time is left them, the two somewhat hip last employees — twentysomething Claire (Sara Paxton), who changes the towels and walks the halls, and older guy Luke (Pat Healy), who mans the desk and pulls Paranormal Activity gags on his computer and obviously has an unspoken crush on Claire — are going to try to roust out the spooks, either see one for real or lay the legends to rest.

Helping them out are the guests from hell (or maybe in hell): TV actress turned psychic Leanne Reese-Jones (Kelly McGillis), Gayle the mad mom (Alison Bartlett), and an old, old man who checks in and obviously means to come to a bad end. Two little girls also wander around, in tribute to to their obvious inspirations, The Grady sisters from The Shining.

Ti West’s movie is loaded with seedy atmosphere and cracked wacko personality, and I much preferred it to the over-expensive blood-drenched massacres they usually give us. Paxton’s Claire and Healy’s Luke are engagingly scarable protagonists. The cellar is a doozy. West, this movie’s director-writer-editor — and also the auteur of The House of the Devil and Trigger Man (both nifty, effective shows), is a horror classicist with a good scrappy sense of character, and he seems refreshingly uninterested in breaking any decapitation records or in exploring the far boundaries of found footage. (Anyway, Cloverfield has already done it.)

I like West’s stuff. I also still love Kubrick and The Shining, though I’ll always be unhappy with Stanley K. for hiring Diane Johnson to write the script instead of King. As for The Innkeepers, it’s a decent, smart, midrange horror show. Now: the Money question. Will this movie scare you? How the hell would I know?

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Wilmington

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MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

INTERVIEWER
Do you outline plays before you start to write them?

PINTER
Not at all. I don’t know what kind of characters my plays will have until they…well, until they are. Until they indicate to me what they are. I don’t conceptualize in any way. Once I’ve got the clues I follow them—that’s my job, really, to follow the clues.

INTERVIEWER
What do you mean by clues? Can you remember how one of your plays developed in your mind—or was it a line-by-line progression?

PINTER
Of course I can’t remember exactly how a given play developed in my mind. I think what happens is that I write in a very high state of excitement and frustration. I follow what I see on the paper in front of me—one sentence after another. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a dim, possible overall idea—the image that starts off doesn’t just engender what happens immediately, it engenders the possibility of an overall happening, which carries me through. I’ve got an idea of what might happen—sometimes I’m absolutely right, but on many occasions I’ve been proved wrong by what does actually happen. Sometimes I’m going along and I find myself writing “C. comes in” when I didn’t know that he was going to come in; he had to come in at that point, that’s all.
~ Harold Pinter

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