The Inheritance


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Inheritance
"If you have a passion for architecture - and especially for interiors - you'll find that sufficient reason to watch this in itself."

There seems to be a flood of haunted house films out this year, and they're not all a result of the claustrophobia of lockdown, with most in the works before that. Chad Barager and Kevin Speckmaier's The Inheritance adds the popular complication of having its English-speaking lead characters come into possession of a property overseas where they have to deal with unfamiliar traditions, lack of knowledge about local power structures and difficulty communicating with those around them. This time it's Kyiv, where Sasha's (Natalia Ryumina) family came from two generations back. She has been left an extensive estate which includes a vast apartment building close to the heart of the city. Her husband Peter (Nick Wittman) assumes she's going to sell it, but she's still unsure - something about it calls to her.

It's the sort of place that would call to most people. If you have a passion for architecture - and especially for interiors - you'll find that sufficient reason to watch this in itself. The location is splendid, luxuriously furnished and beautifully shot. It's easy to understand Sasha's feelings - and her hesitation about signing it away when the papers are only supplied in a language she can't speak - despite the fact that its haunter is difficult to deny. This is no faint, shimmering presence blowing out the occasional candle. It's a full on screaming match coming from one empty room or another, raging arguments whose tone you'll grasp instantly even if you can't understand Russian (if you can, it doesn't give much away), and sinister rattling noises coming from inside an apparently empty antique wardrobe. The older, local couple who have been looking after the place clearly hate spending time there and urge her to sell and leave as soon as she can. Sasha, however, becomes determined to understand the haunting and uncover the mystery behind it - putting herself at risk from people who are very much alive.

Like most good ghost stories, The Inheritance - whose title resonates far beyond the properties in the estate - is built around a solid material thriller. This rests on the familiar stereotype of Eastern Europe as gangster-ridden and a dangerous place for Americans, but the latter are not as pure and wholesome as one might expect. Whilst we don't really get to know Peter very well, Sasha's complex background and her determination in the face of threats that would send most people fleeing make her a compelling heroine. Ryumina is adequate for the task without unbalancing the film. The ghostly presence also needs room to breathe and to perform its dual role as a character in Sasha's story and a metaphor for the country's recent past - one whose traditions of secrecy, and entrenched imbalances of power, remain pertinent today. The timing of the film's release, as Russian troops mas at Ukraine's border, adds something to this.

Structurally, the film will please genre fans, its story unravelling at a steady pace with exposition held back until the end. The solution to the mystery won't satisfy everyone - it's easy to see how it might be framed differently to change the apparent moral - but it makes emotional sense from Sasha's perspective. Whilst some of the twists along the way are fairly obvious, they're well presented. the pressure on Sasha's relationship, meanwhile, adds a further layer of intrigue as, in keeping with gothic tradition, she is inspired by her discoveries to reflect on her own desire for independence and reconsider what she wants out of life.

All in all, this is one of the better recent ghost stories. It has been assembled with a confidence which makes it easier to accept the fantastic elements, and it makes good use of simple effects to build up atmosphere. Rooted in the horror of the mundane, it never quite gets as uncomfortable as it seems to want to, yet still manages to be both elegant and disconcerting.

Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2021
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A woman's inheritance leads her to Eastern Europe to uncover a dark and disturbing family secret.
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