Of Dickens & Dementia: Composer's Directorial Debut "Inheritance" A Chilling Drama

Genre: Dark Drama
Length- 14:47
Company:  N/A
Website: Official

Jim Novak (Bingo O'Malley) is no stranger to hard times.  He's had a rough life, and he's treated others even rougher.  Now an elderly man suffering from the beginnings of dementia, unable to live alone, he relies on his daughter Laura (Adrienne Wehr) and her husband David (Bob Bell).  
It's a day by day losing battle for Jim to keep his legal competency.  As his final days start ticking down, his unanswered past comes flooding back so vividly that visions of ghosts and days gone by begin to supercede reality.

Now, face to face with his unsavory past, Jim finds himself at a standstill: give up his legal rights and succumb to depression or finally get the courage to face his demons.


The topic of this film hits close to home, as I have had a few experiences  of my own with family members grappling with the monster called Alzheimer's.  Knowing that your final minutes of mental clarity are ticking down, and when that time is up you'll be losing not only control of your physical body but also your ability to love and to feel love – that's a hard, hard reality.
There is no better way to make a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist sympathetic to modern audiences.

“Inheritance” is the writing and directorial debut of prolific TV composer Barak Shpiez, but you'd never know it from his mature and economical style.  While at its heart an intimate film, Shpiez finds a surprising number of visually rich shots to keep the dialogue entertaining.  In that regard, it's something of a one man show, but Shpiez pulls it off like a seasoned pro.

One of Shpiez's influences while writing “Inheritance” was Charles Dickens, and it's not particularly subtle.  Jim Novak will entertain three visits from the ghosts of his past, and each is terrifying in its own right.  My favorite is the first, with a brilliantly milked moment in which a long dead army buddy of Jim's is digging a grave in his backyard.  We know whose grave this is – it's obvious – but the sequence is shot so well and the timing so perfect that it's incredibly effective.

The film builds with an insistent pacing until about halfway through.  The first visitation is brilliant, and the second is effective and still disturbing, but the third is essentially telling us the same thing the second one did, while slipping in a hint about his alcoholic past (which was also hinted at earlier in the film when it's noted that Jim is sober).  For the conclusion to work, there has to be a third ghost sequence, but what's used here just doesn't live up to the first two.  

That being said, the finale is a sucker punch that will leave you at the very least moved, if not outright shocked.  Without going into spoilers, I'm at least able to tell you that the last shot is a pitch perfect cap on an effective and chilling drama.


Writing: 3.5 / 5.  The story is effective and moving, and the finale hits and hits hard, but that third ghostly vision feels repetitive and dulls the creep factor of the preceding sequences.  
Directing: 4 / 5.  Shpiez puts in a varied show, with a great command of the full width of each scene.  His shot composition and usage of depth kept the story visually exciting, even in the quiet moments.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The pacing is by and large good, but since that third ghost sequence didn't have the “oomph” it needed, the scenes immediately surrounding it felt like padding -- “OK, we need a shot of X in order to get to Y.”
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  The soundtrack, also by Shpiez (which only makes sense, as he is an accomplished composer), is for the most part quiet and understated.  I wasn't too much a fan of the hard stings when Jim is discovered in his granddaughter's room – felt too on the nose, considering the expert subtlety of the rest of the picture.
Acting: 3 / 5.  The acting is serviceable all around.  The main standouts are O'Malley and Wehr, with the latter in particular getting a pretty good emotional range to portray onscreen.  Bob Bell's performance was just a pinch too much.  Nina DeBiaso, who plays Molly, Laura's daughter, does well with what she has to do, which is basically to stand around and look concerned.  Randy Kovitz was believable as Dr. Burton.  

Final Grade:  3.5 / 5.  

Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!