Compared to other genres, the horror film always cuts through the chase. What does that mean? It means that the genre does not dilly-dally on delivering the promised “horror”, which is the emotion that is expected to be elicited from the sequence of scenes contained in the film. Ergo, horror films are built around scenes and an atmosphere that leads to the audience feeling the dread of seeing the Other and the alienation of the characters they watch.
For the film The Innkeepers (2011) though, this is not totally the case. Normally, horror films seem to build up a sense of seriousness from the first scene, much like with Triangle or The Autopsy of Jane Doe. The Innkeepers does not rely on making the audience feel scared the whole time but even introduces a light-hearted, sometimes humorous element to the story.
Before I delve further, I want to say my personal opinion about the film first. And I have to be frank here: The Innkeepers made me feel disappointed. The actors are quite likable, with Sara Paxton and Pat Healy’s chemistry bringing the film together well. The humor is quite easy-going (the scenes with Claire and the mother-and-son tenants are some of the most hilarious in the film) and the scares are genuinely impressive. I also appreciated the ingenious “EVP” storyline of the film; instead of tethering itself to the usual horror formula, the film adds that wrinkle as both a winking self-reflexive element and as a plot device.
However, I cannot shake the final few scenes of the film off the top of my head. Not because I am scared after watching them, but rather it spoiled the film as a whole. The central mystery’s pay-off isn’t foreshadowed particularly well, and the death of Sara Paxton’s character felt some sort of a deus ex machina. The film introduces many elements (the hotel, the bride, the old man, and the psychic) which may work if taken separately but together, they just produced a wonky finish. Even if it is revealed ultimately that the hotel itself is the one that is haunted, the film mistakenly fixates heavily on the Madeline O’Malley plot point. Instead of the final scene providing clarity to the film, it just makes the ending quite confusing and inconclusive.
Now that those are out of the way, I want to discuss the concept of the Other in the film, which may be seen in various ways. The first and most obvious one is the Woman. In the film, Claire (played by Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) investigate the ghost of Madeline O’Malley. Madeline is stated to have been left at the altar by her former fiancee; consequently, she hanged herself and her body was hidden at the basement of the titular inn.
From the class’ prior discussion, the Other in horror films manifested a return of the repressed. The Other was made an object by the ruling bourgeois ideology and the repressed reemerged with anger and revenge ready to be served (Wood, 25-27). At first glance, Madeline’s backstory did not exactly manifest an “Other-ing” but her status as the “bride” made it obvious that her gender identity is important in what made her the film’s “monster”. There was a societal expectation that Madeline be married and yet, her groom left her; in this case, the patriarchy enforced its power to grant her misery. This same misery pushed Madeline to commit suicide and made a return to the inn to make everyone share her suffering and her pain.
There are other examples of The Other that emerges in The Innkeepers. One of which is the old man, who rented Room 353. From the moment the old man was introduced, it has been set up that he is someone the audience and the characters are supposed to be scared with. His low, monotonous voice is a staple of similar horror “monsters”. He insists on requesting a room that Claire and Pat cannot offer; the explanation here is that the inn is already about to close for good and the 3rd floor is not open. Furthermore, every scene that Claire shares with the old man plays the riff on the old man’s “monster” self. She is framed with an empty, old-fashioned room alone with the old man, with the latter talking about times gone by; such scenes help alienate Claire from the old man himself.
However, the most important Other-ing in the story is neither that of Madeline nor that of the old man. Rather, it is the titular inn itself. As stated in the previous paragraph, the Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing and the film’s events are about the final few days of it. In the beginning of the film, it is made explicit that the inn is old, as shown by the numerous photographs of the place through the years. It is shown, too, that the rooms are full of antiquated Americana. The inn is not able to catch up with its contemporaries anymore. It is also shown that the inn is not in demand anymore, given that there are only four guests in the span of the film.
Now, why do I say that the inn is an Other? And what is being “Other-ed” here? It is once again difficult to pinpoint what the Other is here. But if I glean on the ghosts of the story, then it can be historical places that is given the treatment. Taken from the perspective of the protagonists, Madeline does not exist as a real person but as an urban legend. Instead of respecting the history of Madeline, they dare to not leave it alone and even raise the darkness of it. Moreover, the old man expresses nostalgia over the place. He states that this was where he, and his deceased wife, spent their honeymoon. His nostalgia for the place is so strong that he chose to die there to perversely honor the memory of his wife. In the film’s ending, Claire herself becomes a ghost at the last second, doomed to haunt the inn until its final tear-down.
These “haunted historical places” is not a phenomenon exclusive to the film. There are many places steeped in history that people do their ghost-hunting at. The Ateneo is not exempted from this; from Grade School to the Loyola Schools, there are enumerable ghost stories that circulate for naive students (and even faculty) to consume and be fearful of. The past is presented here in these places as a looming Other, an Other that is even bigger than the societies and institutions themselves.
We cannot hope to know the past. We only know enough of the vast expanse of it and we do know that in that vast expanse, there are untold stories of horror and untold mysteries waiting to be discovered. Thus, it is treated as an “Other”, something that is repressed and just waiting to let its anger into the world. And in the past, we can find whole marginalized groups which just want to make themselves be heard. Be it a bride who hanged herself and buried deep as in The Innkeepers or a “witch” tortured and killed in The Autopsy of Jane Doe.
The past is where The Innkeepers finds its horror footing. It side-steps focusing on the Woman or the elderly as the Other and hopes that the audience comes along for the ride. Unfortunately, the results diminish greatly due to an error in execution and foreshadowing and the film suffers a blow to an otherwise promising and interesting premise.
“The Innkeepers (2011).” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.
Wood, Robin (1986). “The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s.” Horror, the film reader. Ed. Jancovich, M. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.