The subject of the mental health of women is central to many horror films. Hysteria and insanity are manifest as demons attacking not only the afflicted woman but those around her. The Heiress attempts to take some steps to re-balance this. The male characters are all feckless, rude, controlling, or all of the above. But unfortunately, the female characters don’t quite do enough to really make this film stand up against its predecessors.
The Heiress tells the story of two sisters, Claire (Candis Nergaard) and Anna (Jayne Wisener) who are living together in their recently deceased grandmother Abigail’s (Jean Trend) home. Claire has a history of epilepsy and hallucinations. These begin to increase as she spends more time in the house. They find a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum (the 15th-century guidebook for persecuting witches) and gradually remember stories told by Abigail when they were young. Noticing links between those stories, the tales from the Malleus Maleficarum, and the visions Claire is having, they have to try and rid their family of the curse that has followed them for generations.
This is an interesting concept, and initially, it is quite compelling. Unfortunately, it soon becomes dull, and plodding as we are presented with scene after scene of creepy faces in mirrors, ghosts walking through the background, and clichéd scares which are all borrowed from superior films. It never really amounts to anything or offers us any variety, and so despite its short runtime it is a very slow watch.
Tonal references to The Exorcist (1973) and Hereditary (2018) remind too much of what we could be watching. Suggesting future reveals and excitement that fail to manifest. Ultimately, the entire plot is revealed within the first half-hour. From a short story told you can piece everything else together so easily that it treads water for another hour until it ends. Attempts at suggesting this as a story of female empowerment don’t really land, as the agency of the two leads is told rather than shown. They don’t really do anything to win. They just suddenly have.
More agency is shown by the men in their lives, Anna’s partner Dan (David Wayman), a psychiatrist, Dr. Medhurst (Jonny Phillips) and a priest, Father O’Shea (David Schaal). All being extensions of Anna and Claire’s parent’s conflicting ideas on how to deal with the situation rather than offering any true support to Anna herself. The performances too, though competent, are held back by cockney accents that undermine any sense of tension. A better script that leans into that, and perhaps adds some working-class humour, may have encouraged more engagement. The connection between the family and the force attacking them is never fully explored either beyond the initial background explanation. And so, it is unclear what the motivations are of the things we and the characters are seeing.
There are some creepy moments, some competent direction from Chris Bell, and it is well accompanied by Jezz Vernon’s score, but ultimately, The Heiress is a bit of a limp offering.
Dir: Chris Bell
Scr: Chris Bell, Danny Prescott, Kelly Prescott, Jezz Vernon
Cast: Candis Nergaard, Jayne Wisener, David Schaal, Jonny Phillips
Prd: Danny Prescott, Terry Stone, Richard Turner, Jezz Vernon
Music: Jezz Vernon
DOP: Samuel Pearce
Country: United Kingdom
Runtime: 83 Minutes
THE HEIRESS, is also being released on Tuesday March 16th 2021 in the US and Canada courtesy of 4Digital Media.