The psychological chiller ‘The Inhabitants’ may unfairly be dismissed as yet another atmospheric haunted house frightfest for consideration. It would be a shame to automatically assume that this daunting horror gem was anything but creepily imaginative and stimulating. Thankfully, the filmmaking siblings Michael and Shawn Rasmussen put an ignited and distinctive spin on the conventional ghost story formula with their taut homegrown New England-based fear fable. Absorbingly chilly, methodically intense and suggestive, ‘The Inhabitants’ succeeds with its bare-bones blend of gory mythology that taps into the realm of nostalgic ghouls, witches and possessed sacrifices.
What makes ‘The Inhabitants’ so ambitious in its harrowing presentation is the eerie ambiance that the Rasmussen Brothers bring to the table that showcases the historic and regional flavor of its colonial New England-set naughty narrative. There is an innate appreciation for both the historical setting of the skin-crawling exposition as well as the enthusiasm and borrowed influences of other revered spooky spectacles that ‘The Inhabitants’ skillfully incorporates into its morose mindset.
The Rasmussens (credits include their screenwriting credentials for 2011’s John Carpenter’s ‘The Ward’) craftily dishes out a hauntingly rich and robust sophisticated edgy sideshow that surprisingly has a freshness to its subtle jolting twitches and turns. Sure, the occasional and obligatory horror-induced conventions are applied due to the nature of the genre (ie false alarms and sudden jump cuts, hysterical music cues, shadowy imagery, intrusive video feeds, etc.) Still, the Rasmussens manage to deliver the gruesome goods despite the frequent clichéd sinister techniques. If anything ‘The Inhabitants’ is a breath of welcomed air in comparison to some of the big-budgeted mainstream Hollywood horror flicks that hide behind empty grandiose gestures of seediness without concentrating on the instrumental boundaries of what makes for an intriguing and delightfully insane story. There is a devilish and engaging intimacy about ‘The Inhabitants’ that makes its viewing quite infectious and involving. The spell-binding performances, provocative and crisp-shot photography and the riveting slow-burn of staged madness all leads up to the pulsating payoff. Dutifully, ‘The Inhabitants’ is well constructed as a creepy and caustic caper in its low-key, compelling shell.
The sordid shenanigans stem from behind the whispering walls of Salem’s seemingly quaint and cosy March Carriage Bed and Breakfast Inn. This rustic resting spot has been identified as one of New England’s oldest homes. So it is without question that the good ole’ March Carriage Bed and Breakfast has its built-in mystique and traces of mayhem. In fact, we do get a hint of the inn’s suspicious reputation when we witness a couple bedding together in their bedroom on an unidentified grainy monitor.
Enter Dan and Jessica (Michael Reed and Elise Couture Stone). The young and attractive married couple are about to take over the ownership of the dubious March Carriage Bed and Breakfast Inn from the aunt-niece tandem of Rose Stanton and Gretchen (Judith Chaffee and Rebecca Whitehurst). However, as energetic and accommodating as Gretchen is at giving her family’s inn the ultimate shoe shine of compliments the property-purchasing lovebirds cannot help but notice the disturbing demeanor of her Aunt Rose as she maintains a glazed look and mumbles nonsensical quips ranging from uttering her late hubby Norman’s name (Pete Wishnok) to the references of ‘the children’. Both Dan and Jess have no choice but to chalk Gretchen’s disoriented aunt as a mere eccentric old lady.
As the married twosome, along with their pet dog Wiley, settles into their new home/business they are taken in by the scenic place and the surrounding woods and streams that encompass their new homestead. Jess even decides to visit the local library and do some research on the March Carriage Bed and Breakfast Inn as she pours into the book with hungry knowledge.
Soon, the honeymoon phase with the inn begins to gradually crack and it begins when Dan is called on the road to attend a vital business trip. Of course, this leaves Jess alone on the posh premises for the very first time. The snowball effect of disaster starts to mount gradually. First, Jess runs into a band of shifty teens in the woods while walking Wiley. Upon returning, Jess explores her home and cannot help but feel freaked out by the random household occurrences that range from the washing machine operating at scary will to Wiley’s sudden odd behavior in scratching at the bedroom door as if someone was lurking on the other side. Yes, this is the case as the audience witnesses the glimpses of the youthful garish apparitions appearing in darkness. Could they possible be ‘the children’ that Aunt Rose was babbling about in shock? Predictably, doom and gloom is near when Jess finally succumbs to the presence of these youth-oriented ghastly ghost stalkers behind closed doors.
When Dan finally comes back from his business venture, he cannot help but notice the change in his usually chipper wife as she now appears notoriously distant and robotic in her icy, blank-staring make-up. Even Dan ponders as to why his four-legged companion Wiley is so withdrawn and lethargic. Dan, in his attempt to get to the bottom of his now weird wife’s terrifying trance, makes a few of his own discoveries in the unpredictable house. For one, he uncovers a secret surveillance system that has tracked and recorded all the movement for the zombie-like Jess and the various guests in the inn. Secondly, Dan awkwardly connects the dots and instinctively decides to pay the demented Rose Stanton a timely visit in the hospital for needed feedback only to be met by more detached reactions by the hysterical senior citizen. Will Dan bite off more than he can chew when continuing his quest for the now possessed Jess and the hellish house he once proudly called his castle?
‘The Inhabitants’ crackles convincingly because the film’s leads in Couture Stone and Reed are intoxicating as the victimised sacrificial lambs defined on two different levels of dreary disillusionment. Couture Stone’s Jess is the bubbly beauty turned bizarre beast and one cannot take their eyes off of her transformation into the tormenting she-devil in disguise. Couture Stone is sensual yet sadistic and she leaves you wanting more cause of chaos and conflict from her hedonistic hands. The Rasmussens effectively use the devices of anticipation and antagonism to heighten the tension accordingly. The film’s elegant musical score compliments the moodiness and adventurous overtones of chills and thrills.
Overall, ‘The Inhabitants’ has not explored any new territory that one has not seen countless times before in slash-and-dash cinema. Nevertheless, this stark and resourceful vehicle works its challenging mundane, impish magic and a few of the major boofest releases from La La Land should take some pointers on how to enthrall an audience with low-budget but high-praised creative calculation.
The Inhabitants (2015)
1 hr. 29 mins.
Starring: Elise Couture-Stone, Michael Reed, Judith Chaffee, Rebecca Whitehurst, India Pearl and Pete Wishnok
Directed and Written by: Michael and Shawn Rasmussen
MPAA Rating: NR
Genre: Horror/Psychological Thriller
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2015