(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
The Innkeepers (2011) is a movie which was directed by Ti West. It tells the story of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a once famous hotel which is on the brink of being closed down. This hotel however, is supposedly haunted and houses a few dark secrets which are yet to be exposed. During the final weekend of its operations, two employees and a handful of customers were the only ones left to stay. Over the course of this weekend, and due to the employees going ghost hunting and investigating the hotel’s secrets, the spirits in this establishment start to pop up and haunt them.
After watching the movie, I was disappointed. This however, I feel was mostly due to the movie being very far from what I expected it to be. Going into the movie, I was expecting to feel scared and tense. However, throughout the movie, outside of a few jump scenes and tense moments, the horror portion of the movie was actually very corny. Strangely enough, it was the comedic scenes in the movie which made me enjoy the most. This got me confused as to why we watched the film. When looking at the movie through the lens of John Clute’s four movements however, this becomes much clearer. In a way, the way in which they slowly revealed the monster in this movie followed a very traditional and by the book move-based approach to horror.
Clute says that in a horrors movie, there are four stages or moves that the film passes through. The first move is the sighting. It “is a glimpse of the terror to come; it is uncanny to experience, and it tells us that something worse than what we just sighted is in the offing.” The movie plays with this move very well. It has several scenes in which Claire and Luke, the employees of the hotel, build up the mystery. It takes a long time for the sighting of the ghost in the movie to actually happen but, the build-up is actually done well. Through scenes such as when they talk about the story of Madeline O’Malley, when they start to watch old videos that Luke took, and more, you get the feeling that there is something supernatural going on in the hotel. You actually start to fear for the characters when they go off alone or enter dark places because it seems very likely that something could happen.
It is in the next stage or, the thickening, wherein the fears for the characters are actually realized. Clute describes this move as when “the future adumbrated in the terrorizing flash of Sighting begins to come true.” In the movie, this can be seen in the tension building scenes. Parts such as when they go ghost hunting and start to hear things and, especially when Claire sees the piano being played on its own especially contribute to the thickening. This move further draws the audience in and sets them up for the next move or, the revel.
Revel in short, “delivers the truth… [it] marks the moment when a horror tale ceases to describe the welling up of the repressed and the subversive within the restraining walls of ‘civilization,’ and begins to tell it as it is.” This moment begins when the ghost actually shows up. Instead of the movie revolving around solving the mystery of Madeline O’Malley, it changes and becomes a fight for survival. The apparitions of ghosts start to show themselves completely and, the characters really do feel like they are in a state of danger. This all leads up to the end in which, Claire had to die in order for the spirits to be somewhat appeased. The last step then is called the aftermath. “At the very heart of the moment of Aftermath lies an awareness that the story is done.” This part serves as the what now portion. It allows us to ask questions such as, how will the characters react to the happenings, especially given the moment wherein they realized that the supernatural really is present in the world.
It is because of this traditional move-based approach that I was able to somewhat understand the reasoning behind having this movie in the class. However, in the end, I found that even though the steps were done well, the movie in itself was still a disappointment. The characters, plot, and more felt underdeveloped and quite simply, I found myself more bored than amused while watching it. Noël Carroll, in his article Why Horror, says that “to a large extent, the horror story is driven explicitly by curiosity. It engages its audience by being involved in processes of disclosure, proof, explanation, hypothesis, and confirmation.” It is here that I feel like the movie was lacking. There was never a point in which I was invested in the mystery as it seemed like a very normal and unoriginal tale to be told, made different just by the comedic vibe which the filmmakers decided to add.
John Clute, “The Darkening Garden.” Weird Fiction Review.
Noel Carroll, “Why Horror?.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).