What would you do if a large sum of money randomly dropped onto your lap? Would you question where it came from? Would it solve all your problems, or would it create new ones? How do you know that it won’t change you or your relationships to those close to you?
Director Tyler Savage’s feature-length debut Inheritance examines the dark side of family in the form of a slow-burning psychological thriller. The film will make you question your own relationship to your parents and the secrets they might be hiding from you.
Ryan, a blue-collar construction worker, receives some unexpected news: his biological father has died. Since he was adopted at a young age, Ryan never knew his real father and had figured that he had died a long time ago. His father’s last will and testament states that Ryan is to inherit his estate, located on the coast of California and valued at roughly $2.5 million. Ryan decides to visit, bringing along his pregnant fiancée Isi. The property turns out to be beautiful; the house itself is a single-floor model of modern architecture with large windows overlooking a breath-taking view of the ocean. Isi is overjoyed by the sheer beauty of house, but Ryan is more hesitant. To him, it’s the living space of a man who was more of a complete stranger than a blood relative.
In a note attached to the will, Ryan’s father instructs his son to sell the house immediately. However, Ryan keeps this detail to himself, still curious to find out who his father was. During the first night of their stay, Ryan wakes up to the sound of footsteps elsewhere in the house. He gets up to investigate and catches a glimpse of an older man in the mirror. But when he turns around, no one is there. The next morning, when going through the tool shed, Ryan comes across a photograph of the same man. Things become stranger when Ryan catches a man in the act of digging a hole in his backyard. The man claims to be Ryan’s second cousin, but gives no explanation as to what he’s digging for.
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Ryan continues to uncover clues around the house. In the bathroom, he finds a single pill behind the toilet. A simple Google search reveals that it’s antipsychotic medication to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Ryan needs more answers. He attempts to find out more about his father by asking a neighbor, a senile widow who has been spying on Ryan from her balcony since he arrived. But all she can offer is a history lesson about the land, where centuries ago European colonists slaughtered the Native inhabitants and took their daughters to be their wives.
Every night, Ryan’s dreams become more vivid and bizarre. He sees visions of his father and other strange men (more family members?) in different parts of the house, partaking in unsavory activities. These visions are similar to The Shining, in that the house is slowly revealing its dark past. To say that Ryan’s father had a few skeletons in the closet would be an understatement.
A visit from Ryan’s sister Allie and her husband reveals that Ryan doesn’t have a good relationship with his adoptive family either. What begins as a pleasant meal devolves into an exchanging of deep-cutting insults between the two siblings. Allie leaves the same night, vowing to never speak to Ryan again.
Ryan is clearly disturbed by what he has learned about his father through his visions, but hasn’t mentioned a word to his fiancée, who is becoming more and more annoyed with him. Selling the house would give them a great start to their new family, but Ryan fails to show enthusiasm about becoming a father. Isi tries to confront him about it, but their conversation erupts into a full-on argument. Isi storms out and Ryan is left alone, his mental state becoming more unstable. The lines between reality and dreams begin to blur and the visions become more violent.
Is Ryan losing his mind? Are the visions paranormal manifestations or only hallucinations? Is his father’s mental illness hereditary? Is Ryan unable to come to terms with becoming a father because of his non-existent relationship to his own? Was his father involved in some shady business? Has the land been cursed by the murdered Natives? The film builds to a chaotic and devastating end that leaves more questions than answers.
I found myself feeling either bored or frustrated with the pace of this film. To add to that, Chase Joilet’s portrayal of Ryan is mostly deadpan, with the occasional explosive emotion during heated dialogue. The script called for Ryan to be constantly brooding, yet Joliet’s performance failed to garner any sympathy for me as a viewer.
On the upside, Inheritance distracts the viewer from its weaknesses with its stunning cinematography, whether it’s with its serene slow-motion shots of the ocean water or the disturbing imagery of Ryan’s nighttime visions. If you enjoy movies for the sake of visual stimulation, then Inheritance might be for you. But if you demand action and unambiguous endings, you’re likely to grow impatient with this one.
Inheritance made its East Coast premiere at the 2017 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival