(director/writer: Ti West; cinematographer: Eliot Rockett; editor: Ti West; music: Jeff Grace; cast: Sara Paxton (Claire), Pat Healy (Luke), Alison Bartlett (Gayle), Jake Schlueter (Young Boy), Kelly McGillis (Leanne Rease-Jones), Lena Dunham (Elysabeth, Barista, coffee shop clerk), George Riddle (Old Man), Brenda Cooney (Madeline O’Malley); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Peter Phok/Larry Fessenden/Derek Curl; Magnolia Pictures; 2011)

“Entertaining creepy B horror pic.”

Reviewed by Dennis SchwartzIndie cult filmmaker Ti West (The House of the Devil“/”Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever“/”The Roost”) directs and writes this entertaining creepy B horror pic, that offers more comedy than scares until it takes off in its Chapter 3 and gives us an against the grain modern-day scare flick without relying on special effects or undue mayhem. It’s set in an unremarkable rundown 19th century Torrington, Connecticut hotel called the Yankee Pedlar Inn, that’s closing after the weekend and the owner is vacationing in Barbados. Left to handle the hotel by moving into the hotel on the closing weekend are two aimless twenty-something desk clerks–the asthmatic, vulnerable, sweet and naive Claire (Sara Paxton) and the cynical, witty and goofy nerd college drop-out Luke ( Pat Healy). There are only two guests, a bitchy mom (Alison Bartlett) with her young son and the unlikable snobby ghost-like Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), a has-been alcoholic TV sitcom star now a psychic healer, and later a mysterious older man (George Riddle) requests a room where he spent his honeymoon.

Luke maintains a paranormal investigators website, where he tries to record proof that the ghost of Madeline O’Malley (Brenda Cooney) is haunting the hotel. She was a former hotel guest, who hung herself when her groom stood her up. The hotel to avoid bad publicity, kept her death secret for three days and kept her body in the woodshed. When the public learned of this in the 1960s, the hotel never fully recovered its former business. For most of the film we observe the bored clerks trying to pass the time by using Luke’s EVP recording system to make contact with the ghost in the hallways. The recorded spirits are of the ambiguous kind, except for a piano suddenly playing on it own. The scariest place is the basement, supposedly where the ghost resides, and where the psychic warns Claire to never enter. Of course, Claire doesn’t listen.

What West does well is build atmosphere, provide a good character study and keep things aesthetic; what he doesn’t do that well is provide a payoff for this low-key fright pic that would do justice to all the build-up.

REVIEWED ON 11/19/2012 GRADE: B-