As a ghost story, The Innkeepers is pretty tame. As a horror movie, it's relatively low-gore and low-budget. But those constraints become assets in writer-director Ti West's warm and witty deconstructed spook tale. West, a thirtysomething horror aficionado who previously toyed with the fate of an unlucky babysitter in his highly satisfying 2009 thriller The House of the Devil, now fiddles with the spectral malaise that infects a hundred-year-old inn. Wide-eyed Sara Paxton and hipster-bespectacled Pat Healy play the joint's only two employees, working each other into a lather of what turns out to be well-founded hysteria. Kelly McGillis is a surprise treat as a grouchy medium.
The movie's payoff is not exactly a stunner, and the narrative tension is relatively loose, even with the first appearance of the ghost of honor. (With its clever riff on 1980s moviemaking and wardrobe trends, The House of the Devil has more oomph.) But there are bright visual jokes scattered throughout, and smart little shout-outs to the familiar language of genre. Best of all, the filmmaker takes his unlucky couple of innkeepers seriously: He gives them living, breathing personalities, independent of their relationship with the house ghoul. B+