Synopsis: A teenage descendant of Lizzie Borden is caught between paranoid visions and festering schizophrenia amid a series of small-town murders.
Stars: Odessa A’zion, Leslie Bibb, Dermot Mulroney, Lizzie Broadway, Ryan Francis
Director: Jerren Lauder
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Not for nothing, but it does seem like Lizzie Andrew Borden from Fall River, Massachusetts, has had her 15 minutes of fame. It’s been a whopping 132 years since she was accused of giving those famous whacks to her family members, and Hollywood can’t seem to let her legend rest. Though Borden was acquitted of the crime, the salacious gossip and media frenzy surrounding the murders drove the public interest sky-high, leading to multiple retellings of her story throughout history.
Memorable movies positing various “what if” scenarios have come and gone. I still remember the one with Elizabeth Montgomery from 1975, not to mention the films like 1964’s Strait-Jacket starring Joan Crawford, which took its inspiration from the brutal slayings. In recent years, celebrated stars such as Chloë Sevigny and Christina Ricci have played Borden in film and television to decent notices, and now along comes The Inhabitant, which takes the historical fact of the cast and mashes it up with the slasher film formula.
I expected The Inhabitant to be as cheesy as the opening crawl suggested with its solemn recounting of the crime and how the Borden lineage was thought to be cursed ever after, specifically the women. As it goes, those in Fall River know strange things occur to the women with Borden blood in their veins every October, so it was only a matter of time until the next one snapped. Not the most promising set-ups, but fitting for a straight-to-streaming release timed for the Halloween season. Surprisingly, while it’s nothing to add to your annual watch list, director Jerren Lauder’s low-boil affair is an easy watch thanks to its star performance and supporting players, not to mention a “who’s the crazy Borden?” mystery to solve.
Teen Tara (Odessa A’zion, Hellraiser) is going through the usual growing pains of being frustrated with everything in her life. Her boyfriend is going far away to college, there’s a girl in school that has it out for her, her dad Ben (Dermot Mulroney, Gone in the Night), doesn’t fully trust her after past issues with depression, and her mom Emily (Leslie Bibb, Tag) is wary to let Tara too close to her newborn. While she won’t say it directly, Emily fears her daughter may have inherited the same illness that affected her sister, a patient committed to the local psychiatric ward for murdering her infant child. Letting Tara too close to the baby only creates terrible scenarios in her head, even though she knows deep down that Tara would never hurt her sibling.
As it turns out, Tara has been experiencing some strange thoughts lately. With her birthday drawing near, she’s starting to see the apparition of a black-eyed blond woman calling to her and whispering terrible suggestions into her ear. Nightmares of axes and murder follow, blurring the line between reality and dreams to the point that when people close to the family start to die gruesomely, it’s an obvious solution that Tara has snapped and has picked up where her relative (allegedly) left off.
Now, I’m not going to tell you if Tara is the one that starts to butcher friends, family, and foes but Lauder and screenwriter Kevin Bachar do a superior job of keeping the energy of The Inhabitant up longer than I thought was possible. The solution isn’t that hard to figure out, but enough red herrings are tossed into the mix that you begin to doubt the most straightforward answer. The cast, bless them, are willing to play the game as seriously as you are. While some take the task a bit too seriously (Lizzie Broadway, as Tara’s friend, delivers emotional lines as if she’s playing Greek tragedy), the core cast (A’zion, Mulroney, and Bibb) strike the right balance. If anything, Mary Buss (Agnes), in a small but pivotal role as Emily’s institutionalized sister, finds the best balance and represents the tone for which Lauder is going.
The Inhabitant is one of those random horror movies you throw on, hoping for the best, and come out the other side no worse off. You can see some of the shaky production values here and there, but by and large, it’s a slick effort and functions as a harmless distraction. Depending on how successful Hulu’s Hellraiser is, I can see fans of its star A’zion tracking back into her filmography and finding this one, claiming it as another decent watch.