More Paranormal Activity 4 than Paranormal Activity, The Inhabitants is a self-confessed “creepy ghost story” from the Brothers Rasmussen, screenwriters of John Carpenter’s The Ward (also a psychological thriller about a young woman terrorized by a ghost). Michael and Shawn’s sophomore directorial effort (following 2012’s Dark Feed) is said to be inspired by some of the obscure ’70s classics they watched as kids, haunting-based films such as The Changeling, Burnt Offerings, Full Circle (aka The Haunting of Julia), and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. These atmospheric tales were part melodrama, part creepy ghost story; the sibling filmmakers wanted to capture that tone in a modern-day treatment.
The Inhabitants also “borrows intelligently” from the likes of Silent House, Sinister 1 and 2, Insidious chapters 1-3, and The Ring (all four versions, both domestic and international). It’s especially—even eerily—reminiscent of the Spanish horror flick El Orfanato (The Orphanage) from 2007. The similarity is mostly due to the imposing architectural structure at its center, replete with creaks and groans and bumps after dark. The surreal estate featured in The Inhabitants is the original Noyes-Parris House c. 1669, one of the oldest houses in New England and one called home by the legendary Salem Witch Trial accusers.
Unfortunately there’s not a lot else that’s new here—it’s the same old atmospheric tale of violent retribution swirled through with spooky goings-on and the occasional jumpy jump shot. But this one’s filmed with a modicum of style (mostly hand-held, out-of-focus stuff with some fluttery, inexplicable Guillermo del Toro-styled moths) and decently performed by its homegrown leads.
Jess (Elise Couture Stone) and her husband Dan (Michael Reed) have purchased the March Carriage Bed & Breakfast Inn with plans to renovate. Soon after they move in, Dan is called away on a business trip for a couple of days. Upon his return, he finds Jess and Wiley, the obligatory Golden Retriever, acting all standoffish—could it have anything to do with Jess’s glassy-eyed encounter in the crawlspace? It’s not long before Dan begins to suspect that some malicious, ethereal entity has designs on his catatonic wife.
One of the film’s most disconcerting moments occurs when the B&B’s former owner shows up slap bang in the middle of the night. The new owners awake to find her sitting in their bedroom, completely oblivious—creep-ola! Less effective is a bit shot (or so it would seem) at double speed after Dan escapes from “the birthing chair.” That one comes out of—and ultimately goes—nowhere.
The Inhabitants might have taken El Orfanato’s lead and plopped down one of those reliable ’70s stars late in the proceedings to ground the piece. Alas, both ’Changeling’s George C. Scott and ’Offerings’ Oliver Reed are dead, and ’Circle’s Mia Farrow hasn’t been seen since Todd Solondz’s creepy romance Dark Horse four years ago.
As an entry in the haunted house genre, The Inhabitants is competent but doesn’t have a whole lot to add. Ghosts can often be a harder sell than gore, so you have to credit the R. Boys for going spectral rather than splatter. But a good disembowelment rarely hurts.
(c) 2015 David N. Butterworth