When a flick offers atmosphere but not much else, then it better offer a hell of a lot of atmosphere in order to rise above simple “well, that was a waste of time” classification. I’ll say right off the bat that 2015’s The Inhabitants — the brainchild or the writer-director tandem of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen — has plenty by way of atmosphere going for it, without question. But I’m not sure it has much to recommend in its favor beyond that — yet I’m not ready to call it a waste of time, either. So I guess it must have — what was that again? — “a hell of a lot of atmosphere,” indeed.
Crucially, that sense of atmosphere isn’t the by-product of accident, but of authenticity. Filmed at the historic Noyes-Parris House in Wayland, Massachusetts, this is a fairly simple tale about a husband and wife named Dan and Jessica (played by Michael Reed and Elise Couture, respectively) who buy the ancient-by-American standards New England farmhouse, which has since been converted into a bed and breakfast, with an eye toward achieving their dream of self-employed self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, Dan’s gotta leave his bride alone for a few days to attend to some business, and when he returns he finds that she’s become a cold and distant shadow of her former self — the proverbial “cold fish,” so to speak. As her withdrawal intensifies, he begins to nose around into their home’s history, and discovers some truly shocking secrets involving witchcraft and worse that might go some way toward explaining both Jessica’s condition, and the quasi-paranormal activities that are beginning to plague the both of them on a nightly basis —
Okay, yeah, not exactly revolutionary stuff there, I suppose, and matters aren’t helped by the fact that the pacing of this film is deliberate, bordering on downright slow. Both principal actors are good individually, but don’t seem to have much by way of chemistry with each other, so hubby’s concern for wife can seem forced, and that’s another strike against the production. Even still, you won’t feel compelled to pull away from the film (or hit “stop,” if you’re watching it on Hulu like I did) simply because, again, the setting, lighting, music, and unobtrusive camerawork all combine to create such a compelling sense of atmosphere (I guess that’s out word of the day here) that you’ll be inexorably drawn into what’s happening — even if what’s happening doesn’t necessarily amount to a whole lot.
It’s perfectly fair to say, then, that The Imhabitants is a flick with only one thing going for it. But that “one thing” is a very strong “one thing” indeed. In fact, it’s so strong that you actively want the rest of the movie to be better than it is. You literally find yourself rooting for the other aspects of the production to catch up with the one part that’s unquestionably working. And when you begin to realize that they never will (probably right around the halfway point), you’ll more than likely decide to stick it out anyway, just like I did, simply because you’ll be drawn in by Los Bros. Rasmussen’s style — it would just be nice if there was some substance to go along with it.
All that being said, the film’s absolute lack of originality, its glacially-paced storytelling, and its tepid ambitions torpedo its ability to become anything more than what it is — a really nice-looking movie that looks a lot creepier than it really is. I hope the Rasmussens can hustle up some financing and do another film in the not-too-distant future, but next time, please — have a better script. You guys have plenty of talent, that much is obvious, but now it’s time to develop some material that’s worthy of your talents. The Inhabitants comes close on a few occasions, but ultimately, it’s an exercise in running in place that consistently feels like it should be better — and maybe even deserves to be better — than it is.
Like I already said, though, it’s not like it’s a waste of time by any means. People who like to keep an eye out for the next potential “star” horror directors, in particular, will probably find what’s on offer here to be more than a bit intriguing. Still, everyone from casual viewers to serious genre aficionados will ultimately find it to be a rather hollow viewing experience — but at least it’s (here we go again) an atmospheric hollow viewing experience.