October 2015 | (USA) | Michael and Shawn Rasmussen | 90 min |
I’ve been watching a fair number of low-budget, independent horror films of late, and the vast majority of them never make it to this site: either I stop watching or they’re too bad to review.
The Inhabitants is an exception and I definitely recommend you rent it when it’s released on October 13.
It’s written and directed by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, whose previous credits include Dark Feed (2013), which they wrote and directed, and The Ward (2010), a John Carpenter film for which they wrote the screenplay.
One of the great things about The Inhabitants, aside from its undeniable creepiness, is its simplicity. It focuses unrelentingly on a couple, Jess (Elise Couture) and Dan (Michael Reed), who buy the March Carriage Bed and Breakfast Inn, intending to live out Jess’s dream of running a B&B. The attention of the film stays on the couple, resisting distractions, as stranger and stranger things start happening, and as the film drives toward a gruesome and chilling ending.
The film is an homage both to recent paranormal horror films (The Blair Witch Project, The Ring, Paranormal Activity, and The Conjuring) as well as some older ones (notably Rosemary’s Baby), and it expertly evokes these films without being derivative. I recognized the references, but I was never sure what was coming next—one of the reasons I was riveted to the screen till the end.
Like The Blair Witch Project and The Conjuring in particular, The Inhabitants discloses its central location—the March Carriage Inn—to be steeped in a history of witchcraft, reminding us, like the best of American gothic horror, that our country has a dark past, and that we may not have yet outlived the sins of our ancestors.
The original owner of the inn, Lydia March, was a midwife who was accused of witchcraft after a mysterious illness beset the colonists’ children. She was tried and hanged in 1669, leading Jess (as she’s reading about this history) to declare indignantly: “Some kids get the flu and immediately a woman’s accused of it.” I thought this moment was a telling indictment not only of the hysteria over witchcraft in the colonial period but also of recent horror, which seems to be offering us one film after another in which women, in particular, threaten children after being possessed in some way. It is indeed, as Jess suggests, a way in which the misogyny of the colonial era is being continued (born anew, you could say) in the present. (I should note that while Jess will soon be doing some threatening of her own, she doesn’t threaten children!)
I think the film did a particularly great job of suggesting that the whole idea of “possession” by evil forces serves in so many ways as a metaphor for how we’re all compelled despite ourselves to do things we’d never imagine—and how, in particular, history has a force we don’t recognize and often are completely unable to resist. We end up repeating the past even when we don’t want to, even when we know what not to do (whether it’s repeating mistakes from our own past or from our shared history). As Jess and Dan get swept up in a history they seem doomed to re-enact, The Inhabitants does what the best possession films do: it insists that the past is never dead and we’re fated to repeat it. In fact, there are some intriguing moments in the film when the camera cross-cuts between the pages of an old document and the present world of the film: history is literally being repeated.
The Inhabitants also represents how hauntings often seem, in horror, to be gendered. Women’s bodies get possessed while we often see men lured to their doom by technology—by videotapes in particular (as in much of the Paranormal Activity franchise, Sinister etc.). Men’s relationship to the world often seems more mediated than women’s, as they see events unfold through the filter of a screen or a camera lens. The Inhabitants suggests the different worlds of men and women (and the different ways Jess and Dan are affected by the inn) by sometimes offering a distorted shot of one of them (in the background) and a clear shot of the other (in the foreground).
In the end, though, one of the brilliant things about the ending of this film is that Dan learns he can’t escape being mired in the body—and some gendered things get bloodily inverted. (Let’s just say a birthing chair and some old gynecological implements are used in rather unusual ways!)
In short, watch The Inhabitants! It has a great plot that really keeps you guessing, a slow escalation of unnerving events, creepy shock moments that’ll make you jump, lots of references to other films that horror fans will definitely appreciate, and some interesting commentary on America’s gendered, violent history of witchcraft—a history that’s seeped, unexamined, into our contemporary horror film.