Inheritance (United States, 2020)

May 21, 2020
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Inheritance Poster

Roughly 20 minutes into Inheritance, I was hooked. Despite the overzealousness of director Vaughn Stein’s intercutting when attempting to ratchet up the suspense during an early sequence, the film exhibits a fast pace and the story offers an intriguing mystery and the potential of a compelling battle of wills. Alas, Inheritance isn’t 20 minutes long. Once the introductory material has been presented and the characters and situations have been established, the movie starts to lose credibility. Characters make nonsensical decisions, the screenplay introduces subplots that are left without resolution, and the promised test of wills between the two main characters fizzles. The ending is a disappointment with a generic “twist” that not only undermines everything that has come before it but introduces unanswered questions and forces us to endure histrionic acting from Lily Collins. Given the setup, there are dozens of paths that director Vaughn Stein (Terminal) and screenwriter Matthew Kennedy could have taken. They arguably picked the worst (leaving the field wide open for Bong Joon-ho to choose another of those trajectories for Parasite).

When the movie opens, Manhattan DA Lauren Monroe (Lily Collins) is in court giving a riveting performance for the prosecution. Meanwhile, her father, Archer (Patrick Warburton), is stumbling out of his house and getting into his car. He’s clearly unwell and, not long after, he’s dead at the wheel. Lauren is confronted with the news at a courthouse press conference. Days later, when the will is read by family friend and lawyer Harold Thewlis (Michael Beach), we learn that Archer has left the bulk of his estate to his wife, Catherine (Connie Nielsen), and his “golden boy” son, William (Chace Crawford), who is engaged in a tight election battle. Lauren is given a pittance – at least publicly. Privately, her father leaves her a video that hints at a secret “inheritance.” Following his clues, she discovers a hidden bunker. Deep in those subterranean depths is Morgan Warner (Simon Pegg), who has been chained in the darkness for thirty years. He has a story to tell but, in order to hear it, Lauren has to accede to his demands. Although initially outraged and inclined to let Morgan rot where her father left him, her curiosity gets the better of her and she becomes obsessed with the crumbs of information he drops. In the process, she neglects her family and job.

There’s a lot of potential in the cat-and-mouse game played by Lauren and Morgan but, despite aspirations of a Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling give-and-take, the filmmakers never get close to that level of scalding interaction and breathless suspense. The more screen time Morgan has, the less interesting he becomes and it’s clear that one of two things is true: either he’s telling the truth or he’s manipulating Lauren. If this was a smarter film, the mystery would be deeper and more complex, and therefore less obvious. The screenplay is unable to convincingly answer the key question of why Archer chained Morgan in the bunker for three decades (even when the truth is revealed). And most characters do more stupid things than horror movie screen queens.

Poor Simon Pegg. The actor, known primarily for his comedic roles (and as a miscast Scotty in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films), arguably gives the most intriguing performance of his career (even hampered by a silly wig that might have been pilfered from a This Is Spinal Tap collection). He plays it straight and incorporates a degree of low-level menace into his interpretation of Morgan. He’s not well-served by the screenplay, which doesn’t give him enough latitude. He’s also not well-matched with Lily Collins, whose penchant for overacting reaches a crescendo at the climax. She’s much better earlier in the film when her character is buttoned-down.

Another questionable story decision relates to the congressional re-election campaign of Lauren’s little brother, William. Early in Inheritance, it seems like this might be a significant subplot that would intersect meaningfully with the main story. It turns out to be a red herring and the lack of development causes one to wonder what’s the point? Like a lot of Inheritance, it hasn’t been well calculated. Despite a few effective “gotcha!” moments and Pegg’s performance, the movie is too artificial and undercooked to work. Logic and consistency are often overlooked qualities in today’s cinema but when they’re ignored to this degree, their absence is noticed.

Inheritance (United States, 2020)

Director: Vaughn Stein
Cast: Lily Collins, Simon Pegg, Connie Nielsen, Chace Crawford, Patrick Warburton, Marque Richardson, Michael Beach
Home Release Date: 2020-06-23
Screenplay: Matthew Kennedy
Cinematography: Michael Merriman
Music: Marlon Espino
U.S. Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Run Time: 1:51
U.S. Release Date: 2020-05-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1