Tyler Savage’s debut feature touts some thought-provoking chills against a breathtaking Californian backdrop.
To call Tyler Savage’s debut feature film Inheritance “conflicting” would be about the right assessment. This unconventional indie horror film attempts to provide a fresh and unsettling take on the concept of “paying for the sins of the father,” and for the most part, it succeeds. The movie ultimately asks more questions than it gives answers and doesn’t indulge in many archetypal genre conventions. The sheer beauty – a painful, dreadful, languorous kind of gorgeousness – of Inheritance renders one unable to tear their eyes away from the screen as its plot disrupts expectations across the board.
Inheritance centers on a young man named Ryan (Chase Joliet) who has suddenly come to own a $2.5 million Californian beach house after the death of his biological father, from whom he has always been estranged. Ryan and his fiancée Isi (Sara Montez) move into the luscious location ripe with heritage. Despite having fostered a found family with his adoptive relatives and wife-to-be, Ryan remains troubled by a lack of connection to his late father and begins to investigate a man he never knew. What he finds is nowhere close to closure or security. Instead, Ryan unearths a pattern of unspeakable truths that are infused in the walls of the beach house, the soil of the earth it sits on, and the very skin he lives in.
Through a series of languid, observant scenes set against stunning seaside backdrops – or facades – Savage creates a pseudo-Lynchian landscape in Inheritance that never fully shrouds its dark and ugly secrets. Think the opening scene in Blue Velvet, wherein beneath the perfect picket fences and well-kept lawns of suburban America lies dirt, grime, and bugs. Yet, Savage doesn’t lay waste the stunning excellence of cinematographer Drew Daniels’ flawless work at all. There’s no need for too many sharp juxtapositions against shots of writhing, wriggling creepy crawlies when one is forced to stare at perfectly composed landscapes a little too long. Eventually – like Ryan – one begins to feel their brain turn to mush (in a good way).
In this way, Inheritance builds tension and breaks down distinctions between real and unreal. The film usually doesn’t resort to employing traditional horror movie tactics like jump scares to frighten viewers. It isn’t completely exempt from indulging in a couple, though, but at least they’re perfectly timed so as to reawaken even those who may have drifted off thanks to the film’s unhurried pace. Daniels’ cinematography, Mini Mansions’ eerie thumping soundtrack, and Shane Hazen’s sharp editing all work together to make the house come alive, almost as though it becomes a character in its own right.
There’s something curiously lived-in yet suspiciously false about the aura of this gorgeous beach home. The land that it sits on and its connection to Native ancestry is explicated through a series of photographs of the colonial era, an omnipresent figurine, and even at one point, a vague soliloquy by Ryan’s neighbor. Despite the building’s outwardly allure, it is nestled on land that was stolen from generations and cultures that came before, and implicit in this history is a warning to those entering the domain that a curse is upon it.
The house stretches, breathes, and influences any susceptible inhabitant. Its sinister “personality” practically infuses with Ryan’s, isolating him further from the people who still love him, including his fiancée. The audience experiences Ryan’s dreams and hallucinations with him. They can do nothing but share his confusion as he detaches further from reality. This provides an atypical haunted house experience, devoid of specters and monsters but rife with uneasiness nonetheless.
The visuals are truly everything in this film, although they admittedly do the legwork that the characters themselves lack. Joliet does proficient work as Ryan, but plays an overall underwritten character in terms of personality and motivation outside the confines of the beach house. Given that large portions of the film focus solely on him, it can feel a little tiresome, especially due to the movie’s slower pace. Montez’s Isi is an easier character to love by far, if only because she takes as little bullshit as possible without coming across as cold and unfeeling towards Ryan’s plight.
Inheritance doesn’t rattle in expected ways. It is an untethered, strange experience that sits somewhere between drama, horror, and thriller. The film doesn’t settle for ordinariness for the most part, and presents multiple narrative arcs that reimagine what it means to be scared.
Inheritance hits digital HD on June 13th.