Okay. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A young married couple finally achieves their goal of purchasing the perfect home. This dream house is old and has some troubled history, and the person selling it seems to be in a bit of hurry to close the deal because the owner, a relative, has ‘gone off their meds’ and can no longer take care of the place. Weird. Still, all seems well when they first move in and start making the house their home. Sure, there are a few bumps in the night, a few squirrely comments from the neighbors about what happened in your new home years ago, a former owner who met an untimely end for cryptic reasons, and a few secrets the house stubbornly refuses to give up. Then, the husband is unavoidably called away on business, leaving the wife all alone to deal with putting things away, track down all those inexplicable noises, and get to the bottom of the house’s malignancy, which she does, but this does not go well. At all. And then, when the husband returns, the mystery doubles-down when the wife no longer resembles the woman he married; as if possessed by someone else.
Sound familiar? Sure, but as The Inhabitants (2015) begins to lay out its hand the film quietly settles into an unsettling grove as each card is turned over and that scenario slowly and deliberately plays out. Here, our couple, Jessica (Couture) and Dan (Reed), have just completed the purchase and takeover of The March Carriage House Bed ‘n’ Breakfast, which dates back to colonial times. Of course, turns out in ye olden days the house used to be owned (and is now allegedly haunted) by a woman, Lydia Miller, who served as a midwife until she was hanged as a witch in 1669. Miller’s alleged crime was conjuring up a plague that killed a knot of local children and ever since, as the legend goes, several more children have gone missing around the Carriage House never to be seen again. And the last words the previous, elderly owner says to Jessica before she’s shipped off to assisted care is to “take care of the children."
Again, I cannot stress how effective the first two acts of The Inhabitants play out. The film was co-produced, co-written and co-directed by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, who had previously written the scripts for John Carpenter’s The Ward (2010) and Marcus Stern’s Long Distance (2005) both of which I have seen. I have not seen their other film, Dark Feed (2013), which helped seed this current project. The film is extremely well shot, and the visuals and atmosphere tend to make up for the rote plot. Ti West’s The Innkeepers (2011) and (especially) The House of the Devil (2009) are an obvious influence as is Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project (1999).
In fact, as Jessica and Dan kept poking around the house, nosing around in the crawlspace, and uncovering several secret rooms (one containing some inexplicable surveillance equipment, another housing Lydia Miller’s old birthing equipment that resemble medieval torture devices), what it brought to my mind was sitting at the computer back in 1998 until the wee hours of morning, poking around the Blair Witch website, a brilliant piece of viral marketing that has yet to be equaled, and being quite creeped out by the scenario, the details, the history, and the well-executed faux police and news content. And while I didn't think the film it all led to was that terrible, in hindsight, it was definitely a letdown after following and piecing together all those delightful Burkittsville breadcrumbs, which brings us to the third act of The Inhabitants, where the wheels kinda come off. (And spoilers ahoy for one and all from here on out.)
As the mystery unravels it becomes readily apparent that the house is the victim of a multiple haunting, led by the ghost of Lydia Miller and the spirits of all the children she’s ‘collected’ over the centuries. Also, Jessica has been chosen as the next vessel for Miller, another in a long line of possessed homeowners, to claim the next batch of victims. Here, the film really falls apart after Jessica becomes possessed by this evil spirit, whose sudden mood swing is so severe and so frosty it kinda torpedoes all the goodwill we had toward the couple (and the actors, who are really quite good) because no can be as stupid as Dan in reading or reacting to this situation, who simply shrugs. There are also a lot of plot threads left dangling, too. We are given a lot of clues but we’re never quite sure what they mean. I’m not sure if those surveillance cameras were relevant to the mystery or if one of the previous owners was just a voyeuristic pervert. And between the cameras and the convenience of a Ye Olde Witch Museum this all borders on contrivance, especially when you have a perfectly good previous survivor to provide some of those needed answers.
Everything up to the climax, which I won’t reveal, was very slow and deliciously deliberate but then this lack of urgency spills over as things kinda hit the fan, which proves counterproductive as the ending falls very flat. Most of that I blame on the score, which had been sufficiently somnolent as the dread was building but then continued to lull the viewer to sleep when one of the characters starts murdering people when it desperately needed to pick up the pace. And I sincerely doubt that this was what the filmmakers had intended.
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The Inhabitants (2015) Lascaux Media :: Sinister Siblings Films :: Gravitas Ventures / EP: Glenn Cooper, Tessa Cooper / P: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen, Bridget Keefe / AP: Shane Cooper, Linda Wheadon / D: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen / W: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen / C: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen / E: Michael Rasmussen, Sean Hester / M: John Kusiak, P. Andrew Willis / S: Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Judith Chaffee, Rebecca Whitehurst