When Ryan mysteriously inherits a house from his biological father, a man he thought long dead, he and his pregnant fiancé travel to the property with high hopes for the future. But curiosity about his deceased father leads Ryan to uncover a dark family history...
But the problem is – I don’t think that a great many filmmakers know that “slow-burn” doesn’t equal just plain “slow”.
Such is the case with the new indie horror/thriller Inheritance – which had its World Premiere at the 20th Annual Dances with Films in Los Angeles.
But we’ll get to that “slow” in a moment…
Ryan (Chase Joliet) randomly finds out that his biological father – whom he thought was dead (and whom he never met) leaves him a stunning seaside two-bedroom home somewhere on the picturesque central California coast. Ryan goes there with his pregnant fiancé Isi (Sara Montez) – unsure of what to do with the $2 million home. Once they arrive, clues about the home’s long history and Ryan’s ancestors (including his father) who have long inhabited it – begin to pile up, and Ryan begins to see apparitions in and around the home. This strains his relationship with his fiancé and the situation quickly comes to a violent head.
I was quite appreciative of many of the film’s technical pieces. It was a very pleasant film to watch visually. The camera work was beautiful (the long, slow shots of various landmarks in the film, i.e. the dock and the seaside – are notable pieces of art). The editing was smooth and the production values solid. I can’t complain about how the picture actually looked.
But… I think where the film faltered was in the overall characterization of Ryan. And in Joliet’s lead performance.
There’s a very good scene midway through the film, where Ryan’s adopted sister Allie and her boyfriend arrive at the seaside home for dinner and to check out the so-called “lottery win”. Allie pulls up old stories of her childhood with Ryan – including calling him – I believe the term was a “brooding” child.
And I mention this, as it perfectly captures my thoughts on both Joliet’s performance and the way that the character of Ryan was written.
That “brooding” never allows us to really like Ryan. And I never want or need over-the-top character choices and “jazz-hands” (for lack of a better word), but Ryan’s just not interesting enough for us to really get on board. I have never seen any of Joliet’s other work, but I get the sense that he’s a pretty good actor in general. So that always brings me to a rousing round of “the blame game”. If it’s not the actor who didn’t make it work, then it must be the folks behind the camera. Ryan’s not a strongly-written character, so where does that leave your actor? The constant moodiness just isn’t effective as a lead character. Ryan never feels proactive – and you need that in a main character. But again – that’s not Joliet’s fault, now is it?
On the other hand, I was genuinely pleased with Sara Montez’ performance. There are more levels in her emotion as Isi – and get this, she’s proactive. Her reactions feel more organic and with the character’s frequent attempts to get Ryan out of his funk (and this house), Montez has more to work with – as far as making the character more emotionally resonant. You’ll actually feel for Isi – whereas, I never felt for Ryan. Perhaps the film should have made Isi its central character, and watched Ryan’s descent into madness from her point-of-view. Trying to help someone out of the depths of illness and keeping them from going off the deep end – that’s a character journey and something they must overcome. That’s proper drama.
I was bummed to see that fantastic character actress Dale Dickey (Winter’s Bone, Regression) only appears in an opening and closing sequence. She’s been so marvelous in her past roles, you’ll automatically wish you could spend more time with the character. Known for so many sort of “white trash” characters, it was a good time to see her as a nosy, overly-perky realtor named Effy Monroe. Regardless of her relatively few moments of screen-time in Inheritance, it was a pleasure to see her name pop up in the opening credits.
Warning! This next short discussion will contain some SPOILERS. I’m not generally one to offer up big reveals or things of that nature, but I feel that a strange misstep in the film needs to be brought to light.
If the general consensus is that Ryan and his ancestors all had the same mental illness passed down through the generations – thus driving them all to murder and madness – we can understand why so many of these apparitions/figures of long-lost family members, might be showing up in Ryan’s cracked world. What I didn’t understand was how Isi – while on the property – doesn’t actually see them (it’s not her hallucination), but they appear in the scene with her and she senses their presence – all while Ryan is absent. Are they actual spirits and not the crazy visuals of Ryan’s diseased mind? Perhaps I missed an additional plug-in which explained all of this, but it feels to me like the rules of this seaside home were never completely clear. You can make your assumptions as an audience member, but with extra clues which don’t fit the entire narrative – you may be as confused as I am. And finally, I did get the sense that there’s some sort of curse at work here — but it’s never fleshed out.
Okay — SPOILERS COMPLETE.
There are a few effective “boo” moments and some impressive gore effects (well one really big one, but it’s a disturbing doozy), but the film finds itself more in the “psychological thriller” category.
But the gripe here comes back to that aforementioned “slow burn”. A slow burn indicates that there’s a build-up of glorious tension – a huge smattering of unbearable suspense. I think that’s what writer/director Tyler Savage was going for – but the film never takes advantage of the kindling in its grasp. So rather than a slow burn which leaves an audience wanting more and desperate to get to the end – just to find out what happens – it’s just slow. And you’ll want to get to the end as fast as possible – since you’re not having the best time watching the film… even with all of its other strong assets.
With a not-terribly engaging lead performance and character – and a world which doesn’t seem to understand its own rules – Inheritance is a beautifully produced and photographed film. But it never grabs you and you’ll – many times – feel the 90 minute run time dragging along.
At press, no wider release information is available for Inheritance. But again, with its showing at Dances with Films pegged as a “world premiere”, you can expect to see the film on the festival circuit over the next year.