The Inhabitants (2015)

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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
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

Sons of Ben: The Movie (2015)

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Much as Rocky is a Philadelphia story about an underdog persevering to beat the odds, so too is Sons of Ben: The Movie. In this case, Jeff Bell’s Brotherly Love story features a real-life cadre of hardscrabble heroes fighting to win an unlikely prize.
     It’s about sharing the joy that a single goal can bring.
     The prize in question is an MLS (Major League Soccer) franchise for a sports-mad city already supporting the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, and 76ers. The heroes of the piece are the Sons of Ben, a ragtag band of diehard soccer fans, who pursue a brilliant but peculiar strategy of rooting wildly for a team that doesn’t yet exist.
     An infectious documentary about a bunch of footie fanatics without a team sounds a lot like Remember the Titans without the Titans. However, the story of how the Sons pursue their dream, through creative merchandising, a relentless presence at regional soccer events, and a ballsy assault on the media, makes the film an entertaining watch. Their eventual victory? Exhibit A: the Philadelphia Union soccer club.
     Raised on soccer by an English dad, Sons of Ben co-founder and President Bryan James explains the group’s singular vision: “There’s no better way to show that we need a team than to be fans of a team that doesn’t exist.”
     Major League Soccer debuted in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the FIFA World Cup, with Philadelphia inexplicably absent from the inaugural roster of ten national teams. Speaking with other soccer fans in the area, James realized they needed a voice, a seat at the table. He began working on what he termed “a real live version of the South Sea cargo cultists, folks who, after WWII, built runways and fake airports hoping that the ships would land and they would have trade again.” A handful of fans hooked up at a local watering hole, designed a logo—the devilish “Jolly Franklin” replete with oar, scythe, Liberty Bell scar, and cul-de-sac hair—and built a website. And then they started spreading the word, the desire to bring pro soccer to their beloved city.
     According to MLS Commissioner Don Garber, to have a successful team you need three things: a strong ownership group; a stadium or a stadium plan; and, most importantly, a passionate fanbase that really wants a club. OK, so one out of three ain’t bad. But the Sons of Ben start getting lucky. There’s a small mention of their rabidity—and complete lack of team—in Sports Illustrated. They wind up on national TV when interviewed at a Kixx indoor soccer game. And then a one-page article about them shows up in FourFourTwo, the premier soccer magazine. Former professional soccer player turned financial entrepreneur Nick Sakiewicz sees that article and takes a meeting. He likes what he hears, and sees. And he begins lobbying MLS to put a franchise in Philadelphia, with Mayor Ed Rendell, the city of Chester, and a Sons-created charity called “Help Kick Hunger” vying for the title of MVP. What follows is a rollercoaster of highs and lows as the Sons of Ben battle bureaucracy and inertia, emerging victorious in a satisfyingly Hollywoodesque conclusion.
     In his first feature-length documentary, Philadelphia filmmaker Bell leverages his home-field advantage in bringing Sons of Ben: The Movie to the screen. One downside of this competent but short film (75 minutes) is an unfortunate tendency of the Philly fans to use “colorful” language, making it inappropriate for family viewing.
     The only thing missing from Sons of Ben: The Movie is a scene in which James himself jogs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, punching the firmament triumphantly, superimposed over the Philadelphia Union kicking off at PPL Park.


(c) 2015 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com