Image Entertainment // 2011 // 84 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 8th, 2011
A new meaning to blood relatives
More often than not, African-Americans get short shrift in the horror world. If they're not the red-shirt characters who die first, they're the creepy bad guy using voodoo powers to menace a bunch of white folks, Tony Todd style. When a horror film focuses exclusively (or almost exclusively) on black characters, it's more often than not a horror-comedy, not taking the issues of black folks seriously. The Inheritance (Blu-ray) is an interesting exception. It's a horror film that focuses on an all-black cast (with two quick exceptions), and generally avoids the stereotypical treatment of African-American themes and history in horror films. This puts the film above a lot of other genre entries, but this can't quite overcome the fact that there aren't that many scares considering this is a horror film.
Five "cousins" (they're not related by blood, but their families have been close since before slavery ended) are summoned to a mysterious family reunion in a remote, snowbound cabin. When they arrive, they find a case of alcohol and a fat sack of weed. After a night of revelry, the cousins encounter the elders of the family (who, it turns out, hold the purse-strings on a substantial amount of money, which is why most of the cousins agreed to a reunion in the snow), who attempt to involve the younger members of the family in a reunion ceremony. However, it quickly becomes obvious that this isn't a simple initiation ceremony, but a chance for the elders to use the blood of the family to renew an old bond that ensures their prosperity.
Sometimes, ideas are just in the air, so multiple films get made about them. Usually, that's the result of lower-budget competitors ripping off big-budget films Transmorphers-style, but sometimes it just seems to happen, like the way that Dark Fields and The Inheritance have roughly the same story -- a community gets together to save itself, agreeing to sacrifice some of its children in exchange for prosperity. It's an interesting premise because the horror is built in: how easy it must seem to get present riches in exchange for future payment. It also gives filmmakers a few built-in ideas, like those who refuse to go along with the sacrifice, as well as a pretty obvious bad guy. In the case of The Inheritance, that bad guy is Chakabazz, which is the coolest name for a bad guy I've heard in a while. The only problem with this idea is that it makes for a better psychological plot than a horror one. Sure, the audience is likely to be horrified by the idea of sacrificing children, but beyond that there's little room for either jump scares or developing an intimidating villain. This is the big problem with The Inheritance: as good as the idea is, it's not enough to generate serious scares, and when the film switches into full-on horror mode it abandons the psychological aspects that made the initial two-thirds compelling.
In the film's defense, the acting is uniformly excellent. Genre stalwart Keith David makes an appearance as one of the elders, and his impressive size and stentorian voice add some serious dramatic weight to the otherwise unintimidating elders. The other big star of The Inheritance is D.B. Woodside of Buffy and 24 fame. Here he shows he can transfer from the small screen to a more dramatic longer form. Everyone one else in the cast list is equally impressive, offering diverse characters without letting themselves fall into stereotypical characterization, even if most of them are playing money grubbing jerks. This is the other reason I wish The Inheritance had emphasized psychology over horror for more of its running time. Once the red stuff starts to fly, there isn't much room for the cast to stretch itself, so we get the same old screaming and scared acting that can be seen in a thousand horror films. It's a waste of everyone's talent.
I'm not terribly impressed with the look of The Inheritance on Blu-ray. Most of the problems are probably source limitations rather than problems with this AVC-encoded transfer, but digital noise is seriously distracting during the first half hour or so. Sometimes it looks like appropriate grain, but more often than not it appears as angry white dots in darker areas of the image. Things get better as the film progresses, but detail isn't as strong as I'd like. The DTS-HD audio track is dialogue-heavy, but everything is kept audible, with a few nice uses of the surrounds during tense moments. The lone extra is the film's trailer. Considering the film is one of those rare horror films that focuses on black characters, it would have been great to hear from the cast, especially Keith David.
The Inheritance is not a bad film, but it wastes its strong cast and interesting premise vainly trying to scare up some thrills. It's probably worth a rental for the novelty, but only serious fans are going to want to plunk down the cash for this so-so Blu-ray release.
Despite some problems, The Inheritance is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated