By SHAWN MACOMBER
INHERITANCE, now on VOD, begins as what feels like an extremely literal exploration of its title: Here is an ordinary man, eking out a hardscrabble, paycheck-to-paycheck living and worrying about how to support his pregnant fiancée, when he learns the biological father he’s never known recently passed away and left him a home on the California coast worth millions.
It all seems too good to be true. And, sure enough, the natural when’s-the-other-shoe-gonna-drop wariness over leaping from “no luck” to “too much luck” overnight soon appears to be validated by local townie weirdness, odd happenings around the abode and a slowly unspooling sinister family history. There’s a potential top-shelf thriller to be carved out of those raw materials alone, but to his credit, writer/director Tyler Savage (pictured above left with lead actor Chase Joliet) takes a much deeper, more layered and thought-provoking approach in his feature debut. INHERITANCE (reviewed here) warps reality just enough to offer us a surrealist window into “inheritances” that go far beyond the material, and into the terrifying truth that sometimes it may be us, and not some brick-and-mortar home, that is actually haunted.
The sophistication and subtlety with which you weave together the various strands of INHERITANCE is quite an impressive feat. Can you talk a little bit about that balancing act—the conceptual origins of the film and how the story evolved during its gestation period?
I’m so glad this stood out to you—this idea of exploring the title in various, sort of ever-broadening ways. I wanted three levels of meaning: The physical—the house itself; the familial—genetics; and finally the cultural—atrocities perpetrated against Native Americans. I wanted the opening to feel deceptively straightforward, almost like a William Castle film, and then to slowly bring deeper meaning to the implications of this inheritance. It was a tricky balance to strike, but that was certainly my intention from the jump. I think Shane Hazen and I really honed it in the edit, in the visual rhythm.
The story’s emotional aspects are very intimate and raw. Without prying too much, is this a personal movie for you?
Yeah, it’s very personal to me, despite the genre trappings. I wanted to make a film about how I’ve often felt defined by things outside my control. I wanted to find a fresh way to explore my feelings about genetics. There’s a history of addiction and mental illness on both sides of my family, and I believe many people wrestle with questions of autonomy.
Perusing your IMDb page, I saw you worked with Terrence Malick, which instantly made sense. Obviously, INHERITANCE is very different from Malick’s work in a narrative sense, but tonally and atmospherically, the styles are very simpatico. Do you see that at all?
I learned a lot while working with Malick, and I was certainly aware of the ways in which I was letting those lessons impact my approach to this story. Like you say, there isn’t much of a narrative comparison to be made, but I love the power of expressive visual storytelling, and I wanted to bring aspects of that style into the genre realm, where they’re seldom seen. Viewers seem to connect with it, though less adventurous genre fans might be turned off.
Without giving too much away, the denouement dives into dark surrealist territory that genre fans will appreciate. The execution there suggests it was made by someone with a love for and knowledge of horror-suspense. Is that correct?
Absolutely! I have a deep love for horror-suspense, and suspense in general. I mostly grew up in the ’90s, so my early memories of horror include classics like HALLOWEEN and the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, as well as later slashers like SCREAM. But I think my love of suspense and dread grew when I got older and saw films like THE SHINING and JACOB’S LADDER. Roman Polanski was also a big influence—the patient but constant unease of REPULSION and ROSEMARY’S BABY. It’s hard to say why I enjoy suspense so much, but as a fairly anxious and alert person who doesn’t accept anything at first glance, I think it’s just a natural inclination.
Considering the arc of INHERITANCE, you must have know going in that casting would be a crucial component of the movie’s success. Chase Joliet and Sara Montez are, indeed, wonderful. How did you find them? Did they surprise you at all with their interpretations of your characters?
Thank you! They’ll both be happy to hear that, as most actors and creatives in general have trouble believing they’re wonderful. I was thrilled by what they brought to their respective roles. Chase is a close friend, so there was less surprise there. But Sara turned Isi into a more nuanced and understanding character than I’d initially anticipated.
You broach a lot of philosophical issues in this film. Did the process of conceiving the story, writing the script and shooting the movie help clarify any of your own thoughts about life and living?
That’s a great question. I think it did, in a way. As I mentioned before, this is a personal movie, and it’s very much a father-and-son story. My father struggled with addiction for a lot of my life, but he’s been sober for nearly a decade now, and our relationship has improved. In a way, making this film may have helped along some of that emotional healing. But I’m still wrestling with questions of autonomy and inheritance, and plan to spend many years exploring these themes from different angles.