The Innkeepers (2011): Satisfying the Curiosity

Warning: This entry contains spoilers.

Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) both work at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a hotel where a suicide occurred and was covered-up. The two have a strange fascination with uncovering the real story behind this incident, and are determined to have an encounter with the ghost of Madeline O’Malley – the woman who killed herself after her fiance left her at the altar.

Ti West’s The Innkeepers reminded me of the television series, Supernatural. Both mediums have main characters who set out to hunt the supernatural. Just like Sam and Dean, Claire and Luke had their own equipment, the EVP radio recorder, that helped them in their mission. Additionally, both the movie and the show were quite comedic in their own ways. Despite Supernatural being centered around the slaying of ghosts and demons, and being classified as a show under the horror sub-genre, Sam and Dean’s conversations and hijinks make the show stay light-hearted and funny. Similarities can be drawn for West’s movie.

The score in The Innkeepers was happy and uplifting – much unlike the low, loud, screeching music normally heard during horror movies. Throughout the movie, the audience also had a glimpse into Claire and Luke’s friendship as they shared stories, made jokes, scared one another (intentionally and not), and bonded over a common interest of the supernatural, or more specifically, the mystery behind Madeline O’Malley. The movie itself was very slow-paced. For the first half of the movie, it didn’t feel like I was watching a horror film, but rather, a teenage indie movie. At first, I even thought that the movie was a parody to the horror genre because of the personalities and antics of the main characters. The characters themselves carried the film. It was Claire and Luke, their personal developments, and their individual and communal actions that made the film appear to be non-threatening and humorous to me.

In “Why Horror?,” Noël Carroll analyzes the pull behind the horror genre. Usually, people are attracted to pleasant things and push away things that repulse them – this makes horror a paradoxical phenomena.1 How can people want to immerse themselves in elements of gore, blood, creepiness, disgust, and severe messing of the mind? Carroll offers an explanation and says that people may not necessarily be interested in the monster itself, but rather, they may be captivated by the narrative structure that presents the monster, or the storytelling that centers around proving and “confirming the existence of something that is impossible.”2 What compels the audience – and even the characters in the horror movies or books – is a state of curiosity.3 In The Innkeepers, Claire and Luke were so enthralled by the hotel’s haunted past, that they explicitly chose and planned to try and make contact with the supernatural. They had researched ways and devices that could aid them in their search. They had wanted it to happen.

Despite their desire “to know” and to uncover the mystery, Claire and Luke still couldn’t shake off their feelings of fear. As Claire was exploring the hotel, it seemed like she was one with the audience. Throughout her adventure, she was always anticipating something scary to happen. She was apprehensive of turning corners and opening doors. It was as if Claire knew she was a in a horror film. Her actions made me think of how realistic the film was, because it was how I too would probably act if I were in her position. The film added another relatable aspect through its revealing that, although Luke appeared to be curious in the ghost, he had just put on a facade in front of Claire, who he secretly liked. Inside, he was as scared as a typical person would be when confronted with the supernatural. While Claire was the embodiment of inborn human curiosity, Luke represented the skepticism and doubt that one feels when faced with the idea of something unknown.

Once Luke had fled out of fear, Claire still stayed put in the hotel. It was Claire’s severe curiosity concerning the monster, and her drive to unearth and fully understand it that pushed her to continue the search alone. She tried looking for alternate ways to get to the bottom of the mystery, such as consulting with Lee, one of the hotel guests who was in town for a psychic convention. Lee and Claire conducted a short seance which resulted in Lee being adamant that they stay away from the basement, where Madeline O’Malley’s corpse was hidden, and (later on) that there was an urgent need to leave the hotel immediately. Claire’s fascination with the monster eventually led to a terrifying face-to-face encounter with the supernatural – one that even Claire was unprepared for in spite of the agency of her actions to continue pursuing the unknown.

Claire had made it her personal mission to know all that she could about Madeline O’Malley. She wouldn’t rest until she discovered the true story behind the mystery that she was so enamored with, even until the very end. In the film’s narrative, Claire was the central protagonist with whom the story moved forward with, and because of. Being a narrative, this indicates that the storyline could end “either in a sense of perfect fulfillment or in destruction and failure.”4 For The Innkeepers, it was the latter. Claire wasn’t able to find the answers that she sought. But this doesn’t mean that her journey was for naught.

The impossibility of the monsters that we meet in the horror genre enables us to continue to raise questions, and these questions remain essential. Similar to philosophy, the questions are more important than the answers. Although we may not be able to fully or even partially understand the impossible, the fact of the matter is that the impossibility stays alive because it is continuously being explored and probed. The horror genre is fascinating because of the very fact that it repulses and terrifies us, and leads us to try and satisfy the curiosity that we have about the impossible.

1 Noël Carroll. “Why Horror?” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 33.
2 Ibid, 34.
3 Ibid, 35.
4 Mark Jancovich. “General Introduction.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 8.


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