The Inhabitant somehow takes axe slayings as a primary plot point and makes the whole thing boring and self-serious.
The horrific true-life tale of axe-wielding Lizzie Borden is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to genre filmmakers, specifically those looking to inject a little prestige into their slasher shenanigans. The question remains: why did Borden so sadistically kill her father and stepmother? Dozens of theories abound, with most settling on the notion that the young girl suffered from some sort of mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder and possible schizophrenia. Hollywood has always proven particularly offensive when it comes to accurately portraying psychological disorders, with most simply equating such illness with homicidal tendencies or other sensationalistic flourishes. Director Jerren Lauder’s new horror flick The Inhabitant bills itself as “A Lizzie Borden Story,” implying that we are on the verge of a cinematic universe built solely around a real-life murderer who was possibly sick and definitely troubled. This wouldn’t be the first time — ahem, Ed Gein — but there must be a reason why this particular point in history seems like an appropriate time to further defile the corpse of this appalling tragedy; girl power has never seemed quite so neanderthal.
Further irksome is that The Inhabitant doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to add to the legend. Taking place in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, where the initial incident transpired, the film follows a descendant of the infamous Miss Borden, a sullen 17-year-old by the name of Tara (Odessa A’zion). Murder runs deep in the roots of this particular family tree, as 20 years prior Tara’s aunt killed her own baby with an axe, schizophrenia proving the culprit. Mom (Leslie Bibb) is convinced that Tara is on the verge of such a breakdown, as she has both terrifying nightmares and a real bad attitude. She also plays field hockey, and that stick does look a little axe-ish. Tara is indeed suffering from visions, ones in which she sees herself slaying her loved ones with a particularly sharp and blunt object. Meanwhile, a killer is roaming the streets of Fall River, dispatching their victims with, yes, an axe. The question then: is Tara the culprit?
The Inhabitant wants to be a gory whodunnit in the vein of Scream, but is so half-assed in its execution that it takes over an hour of the film’s 95-minute runtime to figure out writer Kevin Bachar’s true intent. The kills are so few that the viewer often forgets they are in the midst of a slasher, with a couple of appearances by some cliched small-town detectives apparently providing the procedural aspect, even though they have roughly five total lines of dialogue. Bachar is far more concerned with Tara’s grisly past and possible mental break, which involves spending the night at a Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast to get some dirt, because that seems like something an actual human being who is fearful of their mental faculties seems inclined to do. The film also occasionally throws out some red herrings, even though they barely function as such, with a few Google searches revealing that the town of Fall River might be cursed, so really the killer could be anyone. And then there’s the matter of Tara being a master seamstress, who inadvertently alters clothes made by Lizzie Borden herself and sells them on Etsy. Those that buy the clothes become obsessed with Tara, because they apparently hold some sort of special power. This is all indeed as dumb as it sounds, no sense to be found, but it does provide numerous scenes of both her best friend and a random pervy neighbor masturbating with the garments, which is really what the story of Borden was missing. The best friend also cuts herself, so overcome she is with lust and not being able to act upon it, because again, mental illness is nothing if not a symptom of murderous intent.
For viewers who hear all this and may think the mess sounds fun in a “Holy shit!” kind of way, be warned that the final product is painfully self-serious and mind-numbingly boring, which is quite an accomplishment considering the film is predicated on a plot wherein axe slayings are essential. The practical effects, to the film’s credit, are actually quite decent, but unfortunately not plentiful enough to keep the viewer from arriving at slumberland by minute twenty. As has always been the case with movies depicting this particular story, it’s not Lizzie Borden who deserves something more respectful — although in regards to possible mental illness, she certainly does — but the victims who so violently died at her hands. Not that the makers of The Inhabitant care much about such trivialities; they can’t even be bothered to deliver a watchable product.
Published as part of Before We Vanish — October 2022.