People have a fascination with true crime and the macabre. Look no further than what’s streaming on Netflix at any given times. Odds are there’s are least one documentary or docu-series focused on a brutal crime or serial killer. One of the most infamous murder cases in American history – a century before the 24-hour news cycle – was the Lizzie Borden axe murder case. To date, several different movies and television shows have adapted the true story including the Joan Crawford classic, Strait-Jacket. Now indie horror The Inhabitant looks to put a different spin on a familiar story by placing it in the more contemporary context of mental illness.
Tara struggles with a basic fear – a family history of mental illness. In fact, her lineage traces back to the Lizzie Borden herself. As Tara increasingly struggles to distinguish between what she sees and reality, her parents fear for the safety of her siblings. It’s a family madness that’s already visited her aunt, a woman convicted of murdering her own infant child. As actual bodies begin to pile up in her small community, Tara fears that Lizzie Borden’s curse may have indeed passed on to her.
The Inhabitant Suffers From Lack of Scares, Frenetic Editing
Somewhere in The Inhabitant is an interesting premise. Rather than rehashing the Lizzie Borden story, director Jerren Lauder and writer Kevin Bachar shift the focus to ideas around mental illness and whether one inherits a disease of the mind not unlike a curse. Unfortunately, Lauder and Bachar never quite find the right balance in the material to explore the premise. It feels like there’s a constant struggle between the urge to be a more conventional slasher horror movie and a ‘serious’ film exploring how mental illness and trauma are passed down from generation to generation. That is, The Inhabitant wants to mine deeper meaning, but it ultimately lacks the substance. Among its problems, Lauder and Bachar can’t seem to decide if they want their story to be rooted in the supernatural or the real world. Regardless of intent, the final scene unravels everything.
It feels like there’s a constant struggle between the urge to be a more conventional slasher horror movie and a ‘serious’ film exploring how mental illness and trauma are passed down from generation to generation.
Arguably, one of the biggest problems plaguing The Inhabitant is editing. For what’s intended to be a psychological horror movie, The Inhabitant’s editing feels like something straight out of a video game. And it’s not just the scenes of explicit violence either. By the way, those scenes are incomprehensible more often than not. Throughout the movie, Lauder’s editing reduces what should be emotional scenes to often headache inducing moments of unnecessary confusion. This is one of the major problems with The Inhabitant – it should feel scary and cut to the bone. Instead, Lauder rapid fires out sequences that have the opposite effect.
The Inhabitant Is At Its Best When Focused on Odessa A’zion’s Performance
If The Inhabitant feels hit or miss, the performances are uniformly strong. If you haven’t seen the Hellraiser reboot, it’s worth checking out just for Odessa A’zion. And for the second time in a year, A’zion turns in a star-making performance. Despite the tonal and narrative inconsistences that abound, A’zion is consistently compelling. While the story’s direction and intent feels in doubt, there’s never any second-guessing A’zion as she fully inhabits the character. Bottom line, this is an instance of a performer exceeding the movie. One can only hope that Hollywood takes notice and casts A’zion in some bigger roles down the road.
While the story’s direction and intent feels in doubt, there’s never any second-guessing A’zion as she fully inhabits the character.
Like the rest of the movie itself, the supporting cast are undoubtedly good but the screenplay itself lets everyone down. Specifically, Leslie Bigg (Iron Man, The Babysitter, The Midnight Meat Train) gets the most with which to work. She’s excellent in the role, but the character itself is underdeveloped and largely exists to advance a plot twist. In other words, she’s more of a plot device than actual character. Veteran character actor Dermot Mulroney (Umma) has little to do on screen. His presence in the movie generally feels aimless. Perhaps the most egregious waste of talent and story potential is how The Inhabitant uses Lizze Broadway. In the role of Tara’s best friend, Suzy, Broadway offers a heap of story-telling potential. That is, The Inhabitant hints at some unrequited attraction between Suzy and Tara, but it’s never explored. Ultimately, Suzy contributes to the body count and nothing more.
The Inhabitant Wastes an Interesting Premise on a Scatter-Brained Narrative
On the surface, The Inhabitant is an ambitious psychological thriller that promises a different take on a familiar legend. In spite of an excellent lead performance and intriguing premise, The Inhabitant falls well short of its potential. While Lauder conjures up a bit of atmosphere, there’s nary a jump scare to be found in what often feels like a perfunctory thriller. Some ideas inevitably feel like red herrings, while big ideas get lost by the film’s climax. Simply put, Odessa A’zion’s performance carries this movie, elevating it from forgettable thriller to a very watchable movie.