[Warning: Contains mild spoilers!]
“Curiouser and curiouser!,” Alice said as she entered and discovered the world of Wonderland. This is a feeling and sentiment that is generally evoked by many film genres, such as the fantastical adventure films, detective stories, but most especially, the horror genre. We are taken into a whole new world of curiosities that pique our interest, taking us as guests and tourists in the narrative.
One real-life experience that I think a lot of people could relate to the story of Alice visiting Wonderland is the inclusion of ghost stories as part of the ‘agenda’ during sleepovers or campouts. The idea of there being a ghost or monster in the area the campers are residing in reels them in, despite the obvious elements of disgust or horror, and sometimes even skepticism. No matter how unrealistic a story seems, or how disgusting it can get, people are still curious and want to hear more of it, sometimes even going to the point of trying to go ghost hunting.
The film The Innkeepers (dir. Ti West, 2011) takes a similar approach as it tries to evoke the feelings of curiosity in its horror narrative. It uses the concept of ghost stories, the curiosity of its ‘consumers’, and ghost hunting as a way of revealing its plot, and ultimately, the fate of the characters. This is very evident in how the whole story played out from beginning to the end.
In his article “Why Horror?,” Noël Carroll wanted to find out why many of the viewers of the genre still stuck to it and have an interest in it despite its disgusting, repulsive state and subject matter. He tries to reconcile this paradox in horror by figuring out the exact factor behind the audience’s fascination and fixation on the disgusting subject matter. One of the main factors behind it is the narrative structure itself, particularly revolving on the discovery of the monster – that which is inexplainable, impossible and to many, terrifying. It does not just end with the existence of the monster; its discovery leads to even more discovery that leads the audience to be curiouser and curiouser. This includes the discovery of its origins, its identity, how to ged rid of it, and so forth.
This is exactly how the character of Claire, and to an extent, her co-worker Luke, navigated through the horror narrative in The Innkeepers. Majority of the screen time involved her diving into the uncharted, yet very interesting, waters of the supernatural which they assumed was present in their inn. At first, the two were merely ghost hunting and scaring each other off for the sake of having something to do out of boredom, but what started as a joke or a game eventually turned out to be more serious than they thought it would be. Things started to reveal themselves, and Claire became even more curious and sought out different manners to try and connect herself to the ghost of Madeline O’Malley. One of these ways was her unlikely friendship to the ex-celebrity turned psychic Leanne Rease-Jones, who fed her with more information that piqued her interest and existing curiosities, but also led to her treading more dangerous waters in her pursuit to find out the ‘truth’.
The very essence of Carroll’s fascination on the paradox of horror, the connections between the fascination (which he calls the Universal Theory), curiosities, and the horrors (which may be referred to as the General Theory), is featured in the main narrative of The Innkeepers.
Though the film is able to do so, it somehow fails to truly own up to delivering its narrative for an entertaining experience. It very distinct mood and tone. There’s a certain, vintage, gothic feel to the film, most likely as a metaphor to the dilapidating, supposedly haunted, and soon-to-be-demolished hotel that the titular Innkeepers are managing and exploring. On one hand, it helps in setting the mood as to what to expect in this old-fashioned horror story. But it barely ever launches off from there; only really using the vintage feel as a background setting and origin for the ghost that the main character was trying to discover. Aside from this, the comedic tone could have been utilized better. On the onset, it was interesting to have seen another comedy-infused horror film, with the two genres often being put together in several films (in parodies such as the Scary Movie franchise, or even in more serious, but still comedic films like Get Out). The light, comedic aspect could have helped given audiences more reason to be compelled and entertained, but the film ends up feeling like it dragged on for too long despite its presence.
Furthermore, the whole narrative did not feel compelling to me. It felt as if director Ti West did not really commit to the gimmick of being meta about the use of tropes or parodies to the horror genre in general. The slow pacing and the lame jump-scares ultimately led into my decreasing amount of disinterest till the film reached its end. It was all too late by the end of the film, as I was no longer paying that much attention – if West had increased the pace and had those events happen much earlier, things would be more interesting and engaging instead of the story being a question of “will it, or won’t it happen?”
Unlike the character of Alice [in Wonderland], or Claire in The Innkeepers for that matter, the film did not show enough or commit to its gimmick enough for me to fully invest myself, nor go fully into the rabbithole. With regards to Carroll’s reading, the film was not able to provide a compelling monster or narrative to make the audience “curiouser and curiouser.”
Reference: Noel Carroll, “Why Horror?.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).