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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [July 5, 2016]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Dan and Jessica (Michael Reed and Elise Couture) are a young couple who buy a bed & breakfast in Salem, Massachusetts. An old one, built some 350 years ago. After moving in, they discover their B&B was once the home of a woman hanged for witchcraft. Yes, a real witch. An evil witch whose spirit seeks to possess Jessica. Complictating matters, the house is haunted by the witch's former victims.
Some critics have complained that there's nothing new in The Inhabitants, and they're mostly correct. The film regurgitates all the ghost clichés established by The Sixth Sense, The Ring, and The Grudge some 15 years ago. The ghosts are pale, with dark rings about the eyes to evoke a skull-like visage. Shocks occur when the camera pans behind a character, or when a character closes a bathroom mirror -- and there's the ghost! (Cue audio shock.) We have old TV sets with snowy screens, playing VHS tapes. We have ghosts creeping beneath bedsheets, toward the protagonist.
The above movies, including the Japanese versions, reinvented the ghost film, sparking the last decade's supernatural cycle. But that cycle petered out with copycats such as One Missed Call and Shutter and Mirrors. Copycats can entertain -- sometimes even surpass the source material -- but it's tough to pull off when we've seen it all before, and know what will happen next. The time comes for a re-reinvention. Or at least a reinvigoration with fresh elements, as with the excellent Insidious.
The Inhabitants's biggest weaknesses are its story elements, including character and dialog. The husband and wife are nice, really nice -- and thoroughly unengaging. Their chatter is banal, even lame. I guess to show that they're in love, the wife asks her hubby what he's doing. "I'm looking at my wife's cute ass," he replies. The actors' deliveries are stiff, as if embarrassed by their lines. An unoriginal story can still entertain, so long as the protagonists emotionally engage the audience. This pair left me cold.
Apart from the story, the film is beautifully atmospheric. Rainy, overcast New England skies. Murky lighting and moody photography. A creepy house with a sinister history and secret passages. The sound design is also competent and effective, albeit predictable. Eerie music and audio shocks are right on cue.
Michael Rasmussen, who co-wrote and co-directed The Inhabitants with his brother Shawn, says "the house itself" was their primary inspiration. "We shot the film in one of the oldest houses in New England. The Noyes-Parris house was owned by the reverend Samuel Parris, whose daughter and niece made the initial accusations that started the Salem Witch Trials. The house is currently owned by a producer of one of our earlier films. He helped produce and finance this film, so he let us shoot there. He claims the house is haunted by a woman in black. That was the jumping off point for us. Who is this woman? Is she connected to the Salem Witch Trials? Why does she haunt this house?
"We also shot some scenes in the Witch House museum in Salem, Massachusetts. We coordinated with a person in their film office. They were very supportive of the film."
One of The Inhabitants's more refreshing story elements is that the witch is evil. Modern horror films more often depict the Salem witches as victims, not villains. Yet this film takes the traditional route -- witches are monsters. Although Rasmussen's interpretation is more nuanced. "Our witch Lydia's evil grows from her persecution. Her victimization makes her evil. That was a conscious decision on our part. We wanted it to be a tale of revenge."
The Inhabitants was shot "on two Canon 7Ds. They're sturdy cameras and able to fit into tight spaces, which came in handy when we were shooting behind the walls of the house. We edited the film using Final Cut. Visual effects were done in After Effects.
Like the photography, the visual effects and make-up are impressive, creating beautiful images. Yet these images have been lifted from any number of horror films from the past 15 or so years. Horror fans can play a game, seeing who can name the most films the below images from The Inhabitants remind them of:
As so many filmmakers, the Rasmussens are cagey about the budget. "We've been asked not give an exact number in terms of budget, but it was extremely low. The film was completely self-financed. To keep the costs down, we did almost everything ourselves. Our crew was just a handful of people. Working with Carpenter [on The Ward] opened a lot of doors for us. It also gave us confidence to go out and make a film on our own."
Michael and Shawn Rasmussen are the latest among the brother directing teams that are trending in horror (e.g., the Wachoski Brothers, the Pang Brothers). "We've been working as a creative team for well over ten years now," said Michael. "It seemed natural that we direct this film together. For us the process is very collaborative. We know each other's strengths, so we know how to divide up the responsibilities. On a film like this, we're both doing a little bit of everything anyway. It helps to have someone you know and trust when it comes to screenwriting and filmmaking, so it makes sense that there are so many brother filmmakers out there. That kind of bond is very useful. Those teams you mentioned certainly did inspire us."
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