The Innkeepers starts with a montage that merges images of a 19th century hotel with its 20th century renovation. As writer/director Ti West’s film begins in earnest we already have a creepy feeling intensified by the progression of the building from a grand palace to an archaic structure wedged between refurbished buttresses.

The Innkeepers is a charming ghost story,” West tells Free Press Houston in a phone interview. “You have to make a film not scary in order for the scares to work,” West adds about the rhythm and timing he uses in building up the scenes. The main characters are two hipster twentysomethings who occasionally study, sometimes drink beer but more often pontificate about the possible ghost that occupies the soon-to-be-closed hotel during their regular nightshift.

Sara Paxton and Pat Healy posses the right amount of nerdy charm and goofy innocence to give the film what West describes as a “goofball quality to the serious proceedings.”

West had the world premiere of Innkeepers at last year’s SXSW. “At first I was full of trepidation because it was a key Saturday night screening at the Paramount, the largest venue. The movie had no big stars, which is what the festival usually uses that slot for,” says West. “Now I think of SXSW as a second home,” such was the success of that premiere.

West considers his trajectory through filmmaking as “an indie film lifestyle more than a career.” West was one of six directors of the omnibus V/H/S that played at Sundance this year and which West promises to bring to SXSW. “All I want from Hollywood is $20-million versus the $60-thousand that I normally spend. But if you go that route you have to do the test screenings, the endless marketing meetings and the headaches,” allows West. Whatever his method West has made a film that pays off in its chosen genre.

The Innkeepers will open Friday, February 3 at the Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks unwinding until Monday, February 6 when it moves to the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park location for a three-day run ending Thursday, February 9.

— Michael Bergeron