FILM REVIEW – THE INHABITANTS. With Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Judith Chaffee, Rebecca Whitehurst. Written and directed by Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen. Unrated. 90 minutes.
Two brothers based in Somerville, Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, are busily honing their skills as filmmakers in the horror genre. Having scripted “The Ward” for horror legend John Carpenter, they collaborated on making their own film with “Dark Feed.” Now, with their second film, THE INHABITANTS, they demonstrate impressive professional skills given that this direct to video/streaming release was shot on a tight budget in Salem and Wayland, Massachusetts.
This is a serviceable horror entry that falters primarily in the familiarity of the material. The plot involves a young couple, Jessica (Elise Couture) and Dan (Michael Reed) who buy a bed-and-breakfast. The house itself becomes a character in the film and the Rasmussens were fortunate to get permission to shoot at the Noyes-Parris House in Wayland. (Rev. Samuel Parris was a leading figure in the Salem Witch Trials.)
The house, of course, is haunted. Without giving too much away, it has something to do with a previous resident who may have done terrible things to children. The film hits the expected beats: their dog becomes aware of the evil lurking in the house long before the people; Dan goes on a business trip leaving Jessica alone to deal with strange sounds and weird discoveries; Dan discovers a closed circuit camera system that has been spying on all the inn’s guests.
Of course this is a genre that–except for the serious genre film buffs–plays to teens and twenty-somethings, so that something that may have been done in a film before won’t necessarily be recognized as being recycled. That would explain how something dreadful like “Insidious” could turn into a hit by filmgoers imagining they’re seeing something new.
The Rasmussens are too clever to think they’re breaking new ground. Instead, they try to make it as polished as they can, without going for the obvious “gotcha” scares that less talented filmmakers use. A good example of this are three young toughs who hang out near the inn and seem vaguely threatening to Jessica. Could they be behind the sinister goings-on? The film lets this subplot play out quickly and neatly while leaving the viewer in suspense as to what will happen next.
Although the cast of unknowns do their jobs well, the weight of the film is on Couture and Reed, who appeared in the Rasmussens’ previous feature. Each navigates the complicated arc of their respective characters without a false note. Couture goes from potential victim to potential victimizer by playing it straight. There’s no over the top “scream queen” moments here. Reed has the slightly more difficult task, going from skeptic to someone who can’t deny the increasingly eerie facts associated with the house. If there’s a false note in either performance it comes from an essential flaw in this kind of movie: the viewer can’t help asking why they don’t just leave the haunted house. Of course if they did, there wouldn’t be a movie.
“The Inhabitants” is suitable Halloween month entertainment with a nice local hook. Best of all, you get the sense that the best from the Brothers Rasmussen is yet to come.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.