JUNE 14, 2011
Early on in The Inheritance, the film’s only two white characters cluelessly wonder if their all-black fellow cast will be barbecuing later, despite the fact that they are in a cabin in the snowy woods (“Probably”, one replies to the other). It’s amusing, but it sets the wrong tone for the rest of the movie, which is played pretty straight and actually pretty interesting. And it doesn’t help when they follow the scene with the black members of the group all celebrating over finding a bag of weed. Who the hell are you trying to stereotype, here?
Racial issues do play an important role in the movie, though thankfully they abandon this sort of humor and focus on the actual story, which is pretty original (!). Basically (spoilers ahead, by the way) the family members are all descendants of slaves that sacrificed future generations in exchange for freedom and wealth, with the older folks (including Keith David!) having been blessed with success throughout their lives, and the time has come to do it again with the younger generation (our main characters). So everyone is basically invited there under the guise of a reunion, only to discover that there’s a “you’re either with us or against us” directive. And the movie sets up that everyone is in debt or needs money to start a new business or whatever, so there’s a nice underlying tension that one or more of these folks could sell out their cousins in exchange for a piece of the action. In fact, it’s the sort of scenario that COULD have a darkly comic approach, not unlike Tales From The Crypt, so I admire them for playing it straight and focusing on character when it could have been easy to just make a comedy out of it. Hell they even manage to make use of the white guy, as the elders plan to blame him for all of the deaths that have occurred.
I also like that it hides what sort of movie it is. The first death plays out like a slasher film, as do a few later chase scenes. And again, there’s the possibility that one of the five is actually behind all of this, instead of the more obvious elders. But then the supernatural origins start to play out, building toward a bloodbath finale (and a surprisingly downer ending). See, this is how you properly try to play it both ways, unlike yesterday’s Shadow. It was set up (and enjoyable) a bit like a slasher/thriller, but when they switched gears into something a little more silly, I was already on board and willing to go along with it.
The pacing is a bit wonky though. David and the other elders more or less reveal their plan around the half hour mark, but then no one dies for another 20 minutes or so as the five cousins just bicker and say “What do we DO?!” type things, plus deal with a rather unnecessary subplot in which they have “lost” a day due to being drugged, something that doesn’t really pay off in any meaningful way. There’s also a confusing bit where one character offers the same bit of exposition twice in 30 seconds, same delivery and emphasis on key words and all. I also had a bit of trouble with a “rogue” family member who shows up and tries to save the cousins (one of them being her child), because if she knew all this stuff, why didn’t she ever come clean before? I did like how her presence was tipped off though; right in the very first scene she calls her daughter and gets cut out – as horror movie fans we expect that this is just there to show us that there’s no cell service where they’re going, but it’s actually foreshadowing her attempt to warn them. And then shortly after this bit there’s a big scene that seems like a climax, with the elders about to do the sacrifice, but then it goes on and on for a while after that, with events that aren’t as exciting as a bunch of old dudes wearing crazy headdresses and bearskins, chanting around a bonfire in the middle of the woods.
Another, less important but more upsetting blunder is that it sidelines Rochelle Aytes for too much of its runtime, more or less having her be the first to die and putting her in goofy white makeup for the bulk of her final scenes. Not only is she lovely to look at, but they should have gotten rid of one of the interchangeable male characters (there’s DB Woodside and two other guys I never could distinguish) to even out the sexes. To make up for it, she’s the “star” of the movie’s first big scare scene, when she begins dancing seductively, suddenly begins freaking out, and then sees a message written in blood on the window. This also makes her the smartest character, since she recognizes it as danger and all of the others are pretty blasé about it. It also takes a bit too long to get to what happened to the white guy, since the scene shows us his girlfriend getting killed while he goes out to get a glass of water, and then cuts to the next morning. I assume it’s supposed to be ambiguous, but it comes across more like an editing mistake – they should have at least shown him coming back into the room, seeing the girl dead, and cutting away as it looked like he was about to be done in himself.
It’s also a bit of a shame that director Robert O’Hara keeps letting his desire to be flashy get in the way of the story (especially since it was his own script). Back and forth shots during conversations aren’t cut normally, they dip to black; the slave spirit appears in quick flashes in between scenes like Michael Myers in Halloween 6, etc. There’s even a 24-esque split-screen segment that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit at ALL. It’s almost like he didn’t trust his own script to be interesting enough for an audience and thus had to “spice it up” or something. He also should have shot the film in scope, there are a lot of big group scenes and you can never get a good sense of where everyone is because the camera can never seem to fit more than 2-3 folks in the frame (it’s a particular issue during the scene where the elders tell the backstory to the five cousins). It’s a good flick, but it could have been closer to great with better direction/editing.
But it all comes down to the script, and that’s where the film succeeds. I can easily accept budgetary issues (the aspect ratio for sure) as the cause for some of its shortcomings, and a good script will always prevail over sub-par direction (the other way around, not so much). The actors are good, there’s a surprising smatter of gore, and again, the story is interesting, which isn’t something I can say about any other “Five folks go into a cabin in the woods” movie I’ve seen in a long time. Sadly the DVD is barebones and it’s probably not the type of movie you’d want to watch over and over (though a second view wouldn’t be out of the question for me), so I wouldn’t exactly request you rush out and buy a copy right now, but certainly give it a look via rental services if you’re in the mood for something a little different but still accessible.
What say you?