Thursday, October 15, 2015

Michael and Shawn Rasmussen's The Inhabitants

Cody is told a new ghost story by an independent horror film now available on VOD.

Back in the 1690s, the residents of the Noyes-Parris House in Salem, Massachusetts were instrumental in getting the tragic witch trials started. Over three hundred years later, the Noyes-Parris House became the shooting location for the ghost story The Inhabitants, written and directed by siblings Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, who are best known for providing the screenplay for John Carpenter's last film to date, 2010's The Ward.

The Inhabitants stars Michael Reed and Elise Couture as married couple Dan and Jessica, who purchase the Noyes-Parris House - appearing here as the March Carriage Bed and Breakfast - in hopes of reviving the shuttered business. As they move in and start fixing up the place, they come to realize that their new home has a very dark past.

Among the discoveries is a secret room from which the former owner used to spy on guests. That same owner also left behind spy cams in the rooms. Cameras which are still functioning. The chair with straps on it is also disconcerting. If the items left behind weren't creepy enough, there's the suspicious people that lurk at the edge of the property, and the elderly former owner who wanders back home from the assisted living facility she has been moved into, showing up in Dan and Jessica's bedroom in the middle of the night.

Dig deeper into the house's past and things get even worse with the story of the original owner's wife, who was accused of witchcraft and hanged in 1669. The woman was a midwife, and after her death the children she had cared for started disappearing... It wouldn't take long for most people to write off March Carriage as a lost cause, and Dan and Jessica pay the price for sticking around as long as they do.

As often happens in a haunted house tale, Jessica's demeanor begins to change, it's almost as if she has been possessed by some kind of dark force that inhabits the house. To rescue his wife and try to keep the situation from really going to Hell, Dan needs to do some research and take some action.

The Inhabitants is not the type of supernatural film that throws jump scares at you every few minutes. This movie takes its time attempting to build up tension and atmosphere. The Rasmussens weren't inspired by modern horror films, but by films from the 1970s, referencing The Haunting of Julia, Burnt Offerings, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, Don't Look Now, and The Changeling (released in 1980). With a great location and a low budget, they attempted to replicate the tone and pace of those films with their own entry in the sub-genre.

The Rasmussens came up with an intriguing story, the Salem setting and the connection to the witch trials is a nice touch, and while the finished film isn't nearly as effective as those that influenced it, it would be unfair to directly compare it to those classics. The directors did a commendable job trying to capture that old feeling.

This is not an exciting movie, though. It is very much a slow burn, long stretches of the film simply consisting of Dan and Jessica going about their routines as spooky things creep in at the edges. They do their laundry, walk the dog, take out the trash, then we'll see that there's some kind of threatening presence around. For a sixteen minute period when Dan goes away on business, Couture/Jessica even has the movie almost entirely to herself. When Dan returns to find Jessica acting strangely, it's Reed we start following. The actors do fine work in their roles, but watching them wander around isn't the most gripping stuff.

The Inhabitants is a well made indie and I respect what the filmmakers were going for with it, but keeping my attention on the movie was often a struggle. Still, if you're in the mood to watch a new, serious ghost story, I would say check it out. Some viewers will be bored by the movie, but if its atmosphere works for you it could be a very scary experience.

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