New York is known for delivering many thrills. From the energy of the city’s entertainment to the exhilarating rush of traffic — the city (and its surrounding areas) are anything but dull. And if you are looking for proof of such a fact, then Vaughn Stein’s (“Terminal”) latest thriller Inheritance stands as quite the example. But maybe not in the ways you think.
Right from the first image, Lily Collins (“Tolkien,” who owns the greatest set of eyebrows since Joan Crawford) makes an impression as Lauren Monroe. Lauren’s got everything — the family, the job (district attorney), the fashion (corporate vampire Barbie), and the most well manicured of hairstyles. But when Lauren’s millionaire father (Patrick Warburton, “Get Smart”) is found dead, her world comes undone.
Lauren’s inheritance includes a small sum of money (in comparison to the rest of her family) and a mysterious package. Inside, she discovers a key and a USB-drive with cryptic instructions. It doesn’t lead her to a new car, a secret mansion, or anything romantic nor glamorous. Instead it allows her to find the most dramatic of discoveries. For what is buried underneath Lauren’s childhood play area is not any sort of treasure, but rather Morgan Warner (Simon Pegg, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”), who has been kept prisoner by her father for 30 years.
On paper, Inheritance might sound like the concept of many people’s most bonkers dreams. For it strikes that perfect balance of hokey but hocked. Yet the end result is something more mysterious than the secrets Lauren begins to learn. For it is movie that had all of its cinematic ducks in a row. Yet from the moment the Simon Pegg-sized cat gets let out of the bag, everything begins to crumble.
Pegg is an actor that has yet to gain the respect he deserves. He’s a comedic force that is a delicious blend of annoying but endearing. He can play the most lovable jerk or humble of common men with ease. But when it comes to dramatic turns, Pegg hasn’t gotten that moment to shine. He clearly has the ability and focus to achieve such results, especially when examining the brutal transformation he did to portray this role.
Yet in a pop culture realm where performances like Anthony Hopkins’ in “Silence of the Lambs,” and recently Michael Sheen’s in Fox’s “Prodigal Son” series exist, Pegg’s Morgan seems too little too late. There’s no denying that he has the talent and capabilities to leave an equally memorable impression on screen, but Pegg’s portrayal reads more grindhouse insanity than any sort of antagonistic threat. And whenever he has to enact a sense of creepiness when speaking about graham crackers, you almost expect for Bugs Bunny to pop up behind him and laugh.
Collins, on the other hand, is trying to ground Lauren in the most serious of fashions. A choice that, when juxtaposed with Pegg’s initial over-the-top energy, unravels in the messiest of ways. The clearest example of this comes during a scene where Lauren discovers another “jaw-dropping” secret of her father’s (one that is the definition of predictable). As she panics on a staircase, we’re treated to a montage of clips of Morgan exercising in a thrusting like motion. And with the constant cutting back and forth, the laughable quality of the sequence escalates to new heights.
But that isn’t to say that Inheritance doesn’t have its glimmering moments between its leads. For the best work between Collins and Pegg are in the film’s quieter sequences. Where the horrific details of the mystery are not the focus, but rather the simplistic human connection between these two soap opera level characters. It’s a shame that Stein doesn’t give more time for these two to relish in these scenes, especially considering the ridiculous nature of the third act.
The rest of the film’s cast plays it mostly safe. Chace Crawford (“All About Nina”) as Lauren’s politically driven brother stands pretty but lacking in any sort of personality, mostly due to his exposition driven dialog. While Connie Nielsen (“Sea Fever”) and Michael Beach (“Aquaman”) deliver what they can with the little that is offered to them. But certain portrayals, such as Christina DeRosa’s (“Bad Moms”) as a woman from Lauren’s father’s past, are more ham than anything served at Thanksgiving.
Though truthfully, the messiest element within Inheritance is the narrative at its core. To put simply, first-time screenwriter Matthew Kennedy delivers a Scooby-Doo episode trying to copy the work of David Fincher and Chan-wook Park. But rather than delivering a well thought out ending, the conclusion to this tale makes Scoob and the gang’s shenanigans look quite polished by comparison.
Overall, Stein and Kennedy clearly admire the great thrillers of the past. There’s a little bit of Hitchcock and Jonathan Demme sprinkled throughout their work here, both visually and narratively. But for every decently executed aspect, there is an equally bizarre element to makes the film lose its credibility. From the disturbing cosplay wigs used throughout, to dialog that reads more Mad Libs than Billy Wilder, Inheritance is movie that obviously has its heart in the right place. It just doesn’t know where to go from there.