THE INHABITANT movie poster | ©2022 Lionsgate

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Odessa A’zion, Leslie Bibb, Dermot Mulroney, Lizze Broadway, Jackson Dean Vincent, Mary Buss, Michael Cooper Jr.
Writer: Kevin Bachar
Director: Jerren Lauder
Distributor: Lionsgate
Release Date: October 7, 2022

Just when horror fans might be forgiven for wondering whether scary movies will ever again feature characters who behave reasonably, along comes THE INHABITANT.

This isn’t to oversell THE INHABITANT, which is a decently-executed ghostly possession movie. It’s just a relief to be able to invest in people who react in ways that make sense.

A series of title cards over historical photos set the scene for us. Lizzie Borden murdered her parents in Fall River, Massachusetts, on August 4, 1892. There are legends of a hereditary family curse, and rumors of descendants being “inhabited” by Lizzie’s ghost.

“Every October, stories get passed around of grisly deaths in the area. It is said that a dark spirit transfers from woman to woman, inhabiting their souls to kill in its name. This is one of those stories.”

We see a woman in an old-fashioned dress sharpening an axe by lantern light, but then we cut to a digital clock. We’re in the present, in Fall River.

After a jump scare, we cut to the next morning. A girls’ high school la crosse team is mixing it up at practice. One of the players, Tara (Odessa A’zion), is bullied by another, but gives as good as she gets.

As Tara talks with her best friend Suzy (Lizze Broadway), we see that she’s smart, but having a tough time. There’s tension between her parents, Emily (Leslie Bibb) and Ben (Dermot Mulroney), an unhelpful nine-year-old brother (Jackson Dean Vincent), a constantly crying new baby brother, and a boyfriend (Michael Cooper Jr.) who’s planning to attend college across country.

Oh, yeah, and Tara is having nightmares about committing axe murders.

This is where THE INHABITANT provides some happy surprises. The way that writer Kevin Bachar and director Jerren Lauder structure the story, Tara’s responses are realistic. There’s nothing that suggests to her that something supernatural is happening, only that she’s stressed out and having bad dreams. We see the killings, but there are no witnesses, and the bodies and blood are concealed.

When Tara does finally suspect that her problems are larger and weirder than previously supposed, the story gives her good cause.

A’zion has depth, humor and conviction as Tara; Broadway, in a smaller role, impresses. The rest of the cast is on the same wavelength. The Tulsa, Oklahoma locations are plausible as suburban Massachusetts.

There are a couple of plot twists that aren’t telegraphed too emphatically, but alert audience members may pick up on the clues. It’s a measure of how solidly THE INHABITANT is put together that this doesn’t detract from the tension and Lauder’s ability to startle us.

THE INHABITANT doesn’t do anything new with the notion of an evil ghost inhabiting a living host. However, it does prove that it’s possible to tell an effectively spooky tale without insulting the intelligence of the protagonists or the viewers.

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