Telling ghost stories is a universal past-time, popular among children and young adults. Even if these stories may not be real, it is still fascinating to hear them and they are educational, too. You will learn a lot about myths surrounding certain people or areas, learn about scary videos online, and even histories of buildings and places. It seems every location has a scary story. In The Innkeepers by Ti West, a hotel is not an exception. Besides, the Yankee Pedlar Inn was around since the 1800s so it is bound to have a haunting story.
For me, the movie started out in medias res, or the middle of the narrative story. This is because the 2 main characters, Claire and Luke, already have a system on how to prove the paranormal activity in the inn and they already know the story of Madeline. So, what is left is the discovery of this ghost.
For the opening credits, the audience sees a series of old photographs of the inn which not only sets the tone to creepy but it also shows that this movie is about the inn and the stories it can tell you. Generally, inns house people from different walks of life, with each one having a story of why they are staying in the inn. Claire, the main character, stays in the inn because she dropped out of college and has asthma. One of the guests in the inn is a mother that wants to teach her husband a lesson by not coming home and taking their child with her. These stories vary from person to person, but the establishment itself has a story to tell which Claire and Luke insistently want to uncover.
Since this is a story about the Yankee Pedlar Inn, the movie is set in a way that tells its story. It has segmented chapters just like the books we read. It has three (3) chapters, namely, Chapter 1: The Long Weekend, Chapter 2: Madeline O’ Malley, Chapter 3: A Final Guest, and an epilogue.
Chapter 1 was allotted to give us a background on the characters, to tell their stories of why they are at the inn. This also gives us a chance to relate to them. Chapter 2 is the build-up to the next chapter. It shows us the paranormal activities that happen before the big reveal of the ghost. Chapter 3 is the climax of the whole movie, where the paranormal activities conclude and the ghost is revealed. The epilogue shows us the conclusion of the story and pretty much answers the questions raised in the story such as “What happened to Madeline O’ Malley?”, “Is she the ghost haunting the inn?”, “How can I (Claire) help her?”.
Everything that happens at the inn all leads up to Claire’s demise in the basement. The locking of the basement door, the appearance of a medium, and the arrival of the old man (who is really creepy) that coincidentally (probably not?) happens in each of the chapters respectively.
The first hour of the movie gives us small scares and make us wonder “what if all these are just in Claire’s head?” It is possible because Claire’s mission to find Madeline is slowly turning into an obsession. Leanne Rease-Jones, actress turned medium, may also be playing along with Claire’s little game. This theory, however, is debunked in chapter 3 where we see the apparition of the old man (the final guest) as well as Madeline O’ Malley’s in the basement. It seems their final goal was to make Claire one of them.
The Innkeepers is a smart movie, it is predictable but there is a certain charm into it because you feel that the director wanted to make it predictable. Claire’s action near the end of the last chapter, however, was pretty dumb on her part. As an avid fan of horror, should she not know that going down the basement is a sure death of a character? Especially since Leanne specifically told her to not go down there and leave the hotel. This part slightly ruined the movie for me.
The Innkeepers by Ti West encapsulates what Noël Carroll says about horror being a Narrative Story. As mentioned above, the whole movie is about stories. The hotel’s strange paranormal activities, the stories in each room, Madeline O’ Malley’s story, Claire’s story, Luke’s story, Leanne’s story, the guests’s stories. They are all stories to make one big ghost story. What makes it appealing is that the audience is not sure of the existence of this ghost which makes it unknown. The driving force of the movie is Claire and Luke’s, mostly Claire’s, curiosity towards this unknown. They want to show the whole world that the paranormal is real and the Yankee Pedlar Inn is haunted. Well, at the end of the movie they found out the truth but… it cost them the highest price possible. In the end, it was all in vain. In the end, the story of the hotel is still unknown.
Noël Carroll. “Why horror?” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)