The title may seem familiar. If so, that's because SGM were treated to a pre-release online preview of THE INHABITANTS a short while ago, and our subsequent review was complemented by an interview with the film's co-writers and co-directors, Michael and Shawn Rasmussen.
At the time, the filmmaking siblings - whose big break, you may remember, was penning the screenplay for John Carpenter's THE WARD - were without a distribution deal for THE INHABITANTS. Fast-forward to December 2016, and I'm happy to report that the film is now finding its way on to US DVD, courtesy of our friends at MVD Visual.
For those unfamiliar with the film, there follows a brief synopsis...
In the heart of New England stands a 350-year-old house called The March Carriage. For the last 40 years it's been acting as a Bed and Breakfast, ran by Rose (Judith Chaffee) and her husband Norman. Since the latter's death a year ago, Rose has failed to maintain the place and her niece Gretchen (Rebecca Whitehurst) now feels it's time to sell the establishment on. Rose will be moved into assisted living nearby.
Enter young married couple Dan (Michael Reed) and Jessica (Elise Couture), who're keen on buying the place. After being shown around by Gretchen, they agree to the sale - much to the onlooking Rose's obvious chagrin.
Moving in shortly afterwards, Dan and Jessica set about fixing the place up so they can eventually re-open for business and start accepting new guests. In the meantime, Dan has kept hold of his previous job in the city for financial reasons - and before long is called away on a business trip there. The timing of Dan's departure is particularly unfortunate, as it comes immediately after the couple discover an ancient torture device in their basement, and are awoken in the dead of night by Rose staring creepily over them as they sleep. As she's led back to the care home where she now resides, Rose ominously warns Jessica to "take care of the children". So, you can imagine why Jessica is less than thrilled at the prospect of being left alone in her curious new home...
But away Dan goes. In the meantime, Jessica also learns via a book in the local library that The March Carriage was once home to a child minder who was hung for being a witch 300 years ago. It seems the children under her care were all struck with a mystery illness.
It should come as no surprise to seasoned viewers that things get progressively freaky around the house shortly after Dan has left the scene. Unexplained noises, shadows darting behind characters at high speed, Jessica's pet dog whining and barking as it picks up on bad vibes around the house: you know the drill.
By the time Dan eventually returns, what will he be coming home to? Does the house really want to claim his wife, as he grows to suspect?
The success of THE INHABITANTS lies chiefly in its solid writing and competent lead performances. The Rasmussen brothers are in rush to bombard their audience with cheap scares; they'd rather invest the time in their characters, striving to make them both likeable and plausible. Which sounds like an obvious thing to do, but so many modern horror films have scant regard for such fundamental requirements. If you don't care for the protagonists, though, how can you empathise with their fear or fret for their well-being when the shitstorm comes? Fortunately the Rasmussens get this and they furnish their simple yarn with two believable, amiable souls.
Although events are arguably hackneyed - by-the-numbers, even - they're efficiently staged, the co-directors finding ample mileage from following Couture as she creeps furtively around her empty home, their handheld camera peering over her shoulder for the most part, to good effect.
Okay, there are perhaps a few too many scenes which are reliant upon cliched scare-tactics. Bats fluttering ominously in attics, creaking doors, spooky music serving to signpost the jumps at every turn ... There's not a whole lot of originality at play here.
At least, not for the first 40 minutes. The latter half of the film redeems any early suspicions of THE INHABITANTS becoming another horror-lite DTV offering inspired by THE INNKEEPERS, THE CONJURING etc, by upping the atmospherics with surreal dream sequences and an allusion to possession which makes you really nervous for the oblivious Dan...
The version of the film presented here is 89 minutes and 41 seconds in length. I don't recall how long the online screener was, but I feel this may be a different, longer edit? Either way, it retains a polished visual elan and slick editing, making this a highly proficient aesthetic proposition.
THE INHABITANTS is presented in its original 16x9 ratio and look really good. It benefits from sharp detail, cool colour schemes and deep blacks.
English audio is proffered in options of 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. While it's good to have the latter, it doesn't really utilise the additional channels to much effect. Optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are also on hand.
MVD's region-free DVD opens to a static main menu page. From there, an equally motionless scene selection option allows access to the film via 10 chapters.
There are no bonus features on offer.
THE INHABITANTS is an understated take on the haunted house genre. It has little interest in gory FX or shock scares, and is all the more satisfying for this. It's well worth checking out.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by MVD Visual|