The Inhabitant opens with a series of title cards, some over photos of the victims, telling the viewer the story of Lizzy Borden and allegations of possession and a family curse that seems to persist to the present day passed down among her female descendants.
Tara (Odessa A’zion, Hellraiser, Fresh Kills) is stressed out. Her boyfriend Carl (Michael Cooper Jr., The Pros of Cons, On the Come Up) is planning on attending college at Stanford. Even worse, her home life is a mess, something not even her best friend Suzy (Lizze Broadway, Ghosted, American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules) can help her deal with.
She’s had past issues with depression which has her parents Ben (Dermot Mulroney, The Getback, The Warrant: Breaker’s Law) and Emily (Leslie Bibb, Awakening the Zodiac, Flight 7500) concerned. That’s not entirely her fault though, she has a newborn brother, and her mother’s sister Diane (Mary Buss, Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart, Camp Cold Brook) was committed to an institution for smothering a newborn and burying the body, and they fear there may be a connection. They would probably shit themselves if they knew she has nightmares about killing the baby.
Director Jerren Lauder (You’re Killing Me, Stay Out of the F**king Attic) and writer Kevin Bachar, whose previous credits are documentaries such as Blitzkrieg Sharks and Sharks of the Fire Goddess, open The Inhabitant on very familiar notes. A famous murder, a family curse, a history of madness in the family, etc. But they offset this by having the characters act a lot more normally and rationally than we’re used to seeing in films like this.
It’s that air of believability that gives The Inhabitant the edge as the familiar characters and situations begin to pile up. Tara’s nightmares intensify, she has a visit with her aunt, and people turn up missing. People like the woman Tara babysat for whose husband sent her a dick pic and the girl who bullied her at school.
That brings the cops, Detective Childs (Kenneisha Thompson, Run Hide Fight, A Ghost Story) and Detective Gaines (Ryan Francis, Black Bags, The Flood) into the picture and The Inhabitant begins to feel like a psychological thriller or a mystery as they start asking inconvenient questions and the visit with her aunt uncovers a couple of secrets her mother would rather stay buried.
The Inhabitant also unwinds more like a thriller than a horror film. There are a lot of interesting things going on and pieces of a puzzle to put together, but there are few scares, and the film’s few killings get little screen time. It’s not until the last act when Tara and Carl visit the Lizzie Borden Museum that the film’s tone shifts and we see something that might be supernatural.
It’s all very slow burn and well played, and it wasn’t until the final few minutes that the script finally reveals the answer and provides us with the first real scare. The fact it manages to keep the viewer guessing is due to not just the script but a great performance by Odessa A’zion that keeps us unsure of her mental state and lets what should have at least crossed my mind catch me off guard. The film seems to go out as a slasher but then ends with an overly familiar and unneeded last scene that dampened the effect for me.
Despite that misstep, The Inhabitant is an engrossing film that was a lot better than I expected based on the rather cheesy text at the start and the tendency of Lizzy Borden-related films to disappoint. It’s not an Amityville level red flag, but it’s usually a warning. This time they got it right,
The Inhabitant will be released to Digital Platforms in the UK on August 14th via The Movie Partnership. It’s already available on Digital in the US via Gravitas Ventures.