The Same Old Scary Story, by Reed Lackey

21 Oct


There’s nothing inherently inferior about choosing to tell a story that everyone’s heard before as long as they love the way you tell it. The same goes with film, where style and craft will always trump a lack of originality. The Inhabitants, a new low-budget indie frightener from the writing and directing team of the Rasmussen brothers, aims for this target specifically. It doesn’t pretend to tell you a story you’ve never heard before, it simply wants to retell a classic scenario as well as it can. The film offers a great deal of promise in its early moments on which it sadly never quite delivers.

A young couple decide to purchase a remote bed and breakfast inn called “The March Carriage”. As they begin to settle in and renovate the building, they encounter a sequence of eerie spectral occurrences which seem to indicate that they are not alone in the house. As I said before, this is nothing new.

The early scenes show tremendous promise. The Rasmussen brothers have a strong handle on mood and good sensibility for creating dread, even in completely benign moments. The principle actors are also natural and likeable, establishing a believable relationship that we care about almost immediately. The problems with the film begin to solidify after the initial set up. The narrative develops by using a sort of salad bar composed of several genre tropes from possession stories, witchcraft stories, haunted mysteries, and even a bit of voyeurism. These elements create more than a few genuine frights, but they never congeal into a cohesive whole. The film ultimately becomes a series of very effective setups with nearly no pay off.

I really enjoyed the general look of the film. By midway through, the constant use of objects and people being slightly out of focus becomes perturbingly redundant, but there were several images that I found captivating and unnerving. One particularly great reveal comes when the wife is shifting around the bed sheets in a washing machine still full of water and runs her hand along something which she clearly did not put in there. Another great fright immediately follows the wife’s discovery of a hidden peephole into the bathroom, where she is quickly confronted by the being who’s been using it. This creative team clearly loves the horror genre and wants to tell stories within it effectively.

But the seeds of their narrative never extend beyond the initial mysteries. Character believability and good will rapidly break down after the thirty minute mark when both husband and wife begin to behave completely inconsistently with the relationship we’ve seen between them. Story beats begin to feel like a need to fill time rather than to push the story forward. There’s no way, given the relationship the two of them had, that the husband would wait as long as he does to investigate why his wife is acting strangely. When he finally begins to investigate, the clues point to three different possibilities: a human culprit, a supernatural culprit, or a possible paranormal victim needing closure. Although the film does land on one of these answers, it provides absolutely no contextual reason why the clues for the other two possibilities ever existed, despite spending valuable narrative time on both angles. The climax feels as though they’d managed to fill the length of a movie, so it was now time to wrap up. There’s also a surprise in the final frame that appears to be trying to substantiate the film’s theme, but only manages to add another wrinkle of unfounded confusion.

All told, this is a film whose crime is not a lack of originality, but a lack of focus. There is real talent at work here, with several nice scares and a consistently ominous mood. Even on a notably small budget, the film makers do well with the aesthetic of the film. But the film’s crimes ultimately rest in their collage of a narrative, which left me feeling more like I’d just seen a beautifully haunting and alluring door that simply led to a closet stuffed with random accessories.

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