Review: Upper-class struggles plus horror don’t add up for ‘Inheritance’
Perhaps it’s poor form to do criticism as math, but the new thriller “Inheritance,” directed by Vaughn Stein, written by Matthew Kennedy and starring Lily Collins, just begs for it. The best way to describe the film is with an equation:
“Succession” (“Parasite” x “I Know What You Did Last Summer”/“Shallow Grave”) = “Inheritance.”
Whether or not the math quite works out, these are the references that burble to the surface while watching Stein’s family drama of money and secrets long buried.
What the math does prove is that “Inheritance,” which was due to premiere at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, can’t deny its horror/thriller DNA. Though the twists and turns are rather schlocky, the cast elevates the material, especially Collins, who is 110% committed to the role. She stars as Lauren Monroe, a district attorney and eldest daughter of a wealthy money man, Archer (Patrick Warburton), who suddenly passes away at the height of one of her most high-profile cases, and during the congressional race of her brother William (Chace Crawford).
While Lauren receives a far smaller sum than her brother in her father’s will, he leaves her something far weightier: his secrets, literally buried under their sprawling estate. Archer bequeaths Lauren something no one ever wants to receive: a secluded bunker where she discovers a live human (Simon Pegg) chained to the wall. Thanks, Dad.
The whole thing is a wild concept, hinging on the plausibility of every character’s motivations, which are all a bit squishy. Why does Archer burden Lauren with this responsibility? And why does she care so much about keeping it a secret? The audience is asked to accept their behavior so that the rest of this manic story origami (storygami!?!) can be folded around it.
The man in the bunker is named Morgan, and he offers Lauren a tale of deceit and revenge. Using these clues, a nickname here, a name there, a shallow grave over there, she chases down every family secret surrounding his decades-long imprisonment. For what it’s worth, Pegg and Collins do really interesting work together, the skeptical but empathetic lawyer drawn in by the mysterious prisoner and his tale of woe.
It’s just everything around the two of them that is incredibly weak, like the bland, underwritten roles of Lauren’s mother (Connie Nielsen) and brother, not to mention Lauren’s husband (Marque Richardson) and daughter, who are barely an afterthought, seemingly written only to give her some stakes during the big climactic moment.
The ambitions of “Inheritance,” which spill out of the bunker and into the courtroom, the congressional race, and even the Caymans, are outsize for its abilities. Necessary characterization is jettisoned for increasingly out-there reveals and story twists that are so relentless they start to lose all meaning, though Pegg certainly has fun with them all, delivering an increasingly campy performance against Collins, who quivers convincingly.
Though the setting of “Inheritance” suggests prestige, this is really just a B-movie all dressed up in a suit, and the sooner the audience realizes that the better, because it’s certainly never uninteresting, and at times, even fun.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes
Playing: Available May 22 on VOD
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