When talking about "The Innkeepers," director Ti West refers to it as a "charming, minimum wage movie."
"I wanted to make a ghost story that also addressed the minimum wage lifestyle," West said when reached by telephone. "That's all I know how to do, either minimum wage jobs or direct movies. If this doesn't work out, I have to go back to being a busboy and I really don't want to do that."
Set in Torrington, Connecticut, at the historic Yankee Pedlar Inn, the film focuses on Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), two front desk clerks who also are amateur ghost hunters. The clerks maintain a website about the inn, which allegedly is one of the most haunted hotels in that part of the country. The two are determined to record some supernatural activity before the Yankee Pedlar closes its doors for good.
The title sequence of "The Innkeepers" gives a time-lapse history of the hotel from its opening in 1891 to the present day.
"You get to see how glamorous the Pedlar was when it was built in the 1800s; it's sort of a beautiful building," West said. "Over time, you get to see how the inside changed, how the outside was added to. It gives you a perspective of the history of this building and how much has changed. The last thing you see is it going out of business. It is almost like a person living their life."
According to West, the inspiration for "The Innkeepers" came from personal experience: "When we made my previous film, 'The House of the Devil,' we lived in the Yankee Pedlar because it was a cheap place to stay for the cast and crew. We were making this satanic horror film in the middle of nowhere, but weirder stories were adding up back at the hotel."
During the making of "The House of the Devil," West said that everything that could go wrong went wrong.
"On this one ['The Innkeepers'], I think I got some karmic payback because it just went incredibly smoothly," he noted. "I'm worried the next one could kill me."
West also said that he felt the Claire and Luke characters really don't belong in an old-fashioned ghost story.
"I was interested to see how they would deal with that," the director said. "I do like that they latch onto this ghost hunting thing, but they aren't very good at it. They have some equipment, but it is not very good equipment. They are doing the best with what they've got, but even that is not so good."
West also said that he is forever sort of charmed by the minimum wage experiences he had in the past.
"You aren't digging ditches; your job is not that horrible," he said. "But you are still a little lost and in a limbo in your life because whatever apathy got you there, it is very hard to get out of that. I felt that must be how ghosts must be when they are trapped somewhere," he said.
Kelly McGillis rounds out the cast as Leanne Rease-Jones, a famous television actress who has given up acting for another career.
"That role was tough to cast because everyone it came to was kind of offended," West noted. "Older actresses, I discovered, don't have a sense of humor about being older actresses. They all felt it was too close to home and kind of mean-spirited. I tried to explain that she wasn't a has-been or a failure; she just moved on to something more important in life, but a lot of people couldn't see it that way."
While McGillis was doing a play in London, West conducted their first meeting over Skype.
"She was smoking a cigarette and I was being very delicate [about the character's age]," he said. "She just blew the cigarette in the computer's face and said 'I don't care about that s---.' She wasn't sensitive about it and she had a self-deprecating sense of humor about it. She understood what the movie was and was able to elevate it to another level that other people wouldn't have been able to."
Currently available on VOD, "The Innkeepers" starts its theatrical release on Friday, February 3.
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