Color, 2011, 101m.
Directed by Ti West
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Alison Barlett, Kelly McGillis, Jake Ryan
Dark Sky (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD MA 5.1

The InnkeepersStrange things are afoot at the Yankee Pedlar Inn. Only two employees are left to run the place and have decided to crash there overnight: Claire (Paxton, from the '09 Last House on the Left), who's gaga over a guest visit from former TV sitcom star Leanne Rease-Jones (McGillis), and Luke (Rescue Dawn's Healy), who's building a website about the hotel's rich haunted past. Intrigued, Claire starts to get spooked one night and decides to sweep some of the empty rooms with a microphone to listen for any paranormal sounds -- particularly the building's most famous ghost, Madeline O'Malley. When something indeed happens involving a piano, she winds up finding unexpected aid from Leanne, who turns out to be a practicing spiritualist. When a bona fide ghost does pop up, the two put-upon employees decide to put their limited skills and equipment to use -- but things don't go quite as they expected.The Innkeepers

At times this almost feels like what might happen if Whit Stillman made a horror movie. The characters are appealing and quirky without being overdone, the sense of atmosphere and locale couldn't be better, and much of the pleasure comes from simply hanging out in a fun cinematic space you don't really want to leave when it's all over. Director Ti West is quickly becoming a specialist in immersive, location-based horror films, and while this isn't an '80s period piece like his earlier cult classic House of the Devil, it definitely has a comforting, nostalgic sensibility. While this may not exactly be an English ghost story, it's a very New England one... which is close enough for this to work wonders on willing audiences. While the final minutes of the film don't quite wrap up as steadily as the rest of the film (a flaw it shares with the otherwise wonderful House of the Devil), this one scores so directly otherwise it barely matters. If you're expecting a fast-paced rollercoaster with lots of flashy shocks from the opening frames, this definitely isn't the place to go; however, if you like curling up with a good, spooky story staggered with a few great jolts, this more than fits the bill.

The InnkeepersIn an interesting move, The Innkeepers was first distributed as a digital rental on demand before it hit theaters (but after its festival appearances). However, those who couldn't catch it on the big screen would be best served by checking out the Blu-Ray, which offers an impressive replication of the big screen experience. While some of West's prior films had a deliberately raw and gritty texture, this one is slick, elegant, and visually pleasing all the way, complete with some sterling scope photography and lots of neat little compositional touches. Dark Sky's track record with Blu-Ray has been almost entirely excellent so far, and this is no exception. Special mention should also go to the restrained but often very effective sound mix, which makes effective use of each discrete channel -- be it a slamming dumpster door, a ghostly rustling, or even a flushing toilet. Optional English subtitles are also included.

The first audio commentary features West, producers Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden (whose awesome Glass Eye Pix produced the film), and second unit dirThe Innkeepersector/sound designer Graham Reznick. It's a very soft-spoken track and amiably sedate, with anecdotes including drawing narrative inspiration from Dee Wallace, shooting at the real Yankee Pedlar (which is still open for business in Connecticut) and having to dress down certain areas, finding the perfect basement steps, and some ambitious plans involving a replica of the hotel's hallway that couldn't come to fruition. The second commentary has West, Paxton, and Healy (and his growling stomach), and it's much more jokey and loose, including a lot of riffing on the onscreen action and recollections about working with each other, including the relative awfulness and girliness of their handwriting and how to integrate good phrases into a screenplay.

On the video end, you also get the theatrical trailer (and bonus ones for related Dark Sky/Glass Eye titles like the very good Stake Land) -- but the main extra is the 7-minute "The Innkeepers: Behind the Scenes," which features a mixture of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the acting leads, West, and the producers, as well as an amusing look at the various participants' dogs who stayed with them around the clock at the Pedlar. (And yes, there really is a dog named Balls.) As a final note, the disc kicks off with an advisory from the filmmakers to play it loud. Trust them... it's worth it.

Reviewed on April 12, 2012.