It's sometimes easy to forget just how young Sara Paxton is. She's been an actor all her life, but I first interviewed her for the remake of The Last House on the Left in 2009 when she was 21. I remember her talking about the brutal rape scene as if it was just another day at work. The Innkeepers is “just another day at work” too – it’s a horror film immersed in the minutia of the everyday grind of a dead-end job.
Writer-director Ti West seems to have a thing for structures (Cabin Fever 2, House of the Devil, and now an inn), and it’s served him well (though his next project takes place in foundationless space). Building from the structure of House of the Devil while filming on location in 2008, West’s idea for the Innkeepers was born of reality while he and his crew took up residence at the Yankee Pedlar. “The cast and crew believed it was haunted,” West says. “The whole town thinks the place is haunted. The staff even has a ghost haunting website” just like the one in his film. It’s as realistic as can be, shot in the establishment itself, and named the same, the only difference is the plot twist in that the place is about to close its doors forever and there are only two staff members left to hold down the fort on the last weekend.
Paxton plays Claire, a pretty, directionless girl who’s just biding her time as a hotel clerk, and Pat Healy is her older, more entrenched coworker, Luke. Luke is a believer in the paranormal who never sees an actual ghost (but does have eyes for Claire), while Claire couldn’t care less and winds up being the one given entre into the netherworld.
Healy says, “Shooting in a hotel that’s reported to be haunted, even though I don’t believe in such things, after three days, the wallpaper starts moving a little bit. Or the hallway’s dimensions start shrinking. I can see why people would think they had supernatural experiences. But that’s something that makes your job easier, too.”
West says, “It is a strange place. Everything’s a little off. There is a mix of eras from every renovation. And it’s weird to be there. But I don’t really believe in ghosts.”
“In the middle of the night the lights flicker off and on,” Paxton adds. “My phone would ring and nobody would be there and in order to call those phones you have to go to the front desk but no one there. My doors would violently fly open. I don’t know if it were ghosts. I don’t jump to ghosts automatically, but it was definitely weird.”
Paxton is undecided on the afterlife, but she has decided she really likes working in the horror genre after Last House on the Left. “Ever since I did [that],” Paxton says, “a lot of roles started coming my way. It’s been a lot of opportunities. Before Last House, I’d never worked in the genre.” She was in Shark Night 3D last summer, and has since acted in Enter Nowhere and Static. She is reported to have a big role in the upcoming Briar Lake Murders movie. She probably can’t really watch any of her own horror movies, as a self-described “baby” when it comes to such things, but “Good horror movies stick with you. For example, when I was little, I saw ‘The Exorcist’ and that movie to this day ... I’m Jewish and I sleep with a rosary next to my bed. It really sticks with you and that’s kind of awesome.”
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The Innkeepers opens in theaters on February 3.