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Review: ‘Inheritance’ works off an equation that produces mixed results

UPDATED: Thu., May 21, 2020

Chace Crawford and Lily Collins portray siblings in “Inheritance.” (Daniel Mitchell / Vertical Entertainment)
Chace Crawford and Lily Collins portray siblings in “Inheritance.” (Daniel Mitchell / Vertical Entertainment)
By Katie Walsh Tribune News Service

Perhaps it’s poor form to do criticism as math (for example, (movie) + (movie) (movie)), but the new thriller “Inheritance,” directed by Vaughn Stein, written by Matthew Kennedy and starring Lily Collins, just begs for it. The best way to describe the film is with an equation. “Succession”(“Parasite” x “I Know What You Did Last Summer”/“Shallow Grave”) “Inheritance.” Whether or not the math quite works out, these are the references that burble to the surface while watching Stein’s family drama of money and secrets long buried.

What the math does prove is that “Inheritance,” which was due to premiere at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, can’t deny its horror/thriller DNA. Though the twists and turns are rather schlocky, the cast elevates the material, especially Collins, who is 110% committed to the role. She stars as Lauren Monroe, a district attorney and the eldest daughter of a wealthy money man, Archer (Patrick Warburton), who suddenly dies at the height of one of her most high-profile cases, and during her brother William’s (Chace Crawford) congressional race.

While Lauren receives a far smaller sum than her brother in her father’s will, he leaves her something far weightier: his secrets buried under their sprawling estate. Literally. What Archer bequeaths Lauren is the thing no one wants to receive: a secret bunker buried on their property in which she discovers a live human man (Simon Pegg) chained to the wall. Thanks, Dad.

The whole thing is a wild concept hinging on the plausibility of every character’s motivations, which are all a bit squishy. Why does Archer burden Lauren with this responsibility? And why does she care so much about keeping it a secret? The audience is asked to accept their behavior so the rest of this manic story origami can be folded around it.

The man in the bunker is Morgan, and he offers Lauren a tale of deceit and revenge. Using the clues he offers, a nickname here, a name there, a shallow grave over there, she chases down every family secret surrounding his decades-long imprisonment. For what it’s worth, Pegg and Collins are doing really interesting work together, the skeptical but empathetic lawyer drawn in by the mysterious prisoner and his tale of woe.

It’s just everything around the two of them is incredibly weak, like the bland, underwritten roles of Lauren’s mother (Connie Nielsen) and brother, not to mention Lauren’s husband (Marque Richardson) and daughter, who are barely an afterthought, seemingly written only to give her some stakes during the big climatic moment.

The ambitions of “Inheritance,” which seeks to sprawl out of the bunker and into the courtroom, the congressional race, even the Caymans, are outsize for its abilities. Necessary characterization is jettisoned for increasingly out-there reveals and story twists, which are so relentless they start to lose all meaning, although Pegg certainly has fun with them all, delivering a campier and campier performance against Collins, who quivers convincingly.

Though the setting of “Inheritance” suggests prestige, this is really just a B-movie all dressed up in a suit, and the sooner the audience realizes that, the better because it’s certainly never uninteresting – and at times even fun.

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