Alejandro Brugués returns from “Horror Anthology Land” to direct his first solo feature since 2011’s hilarious zombie comedy Juan of the Dead in this year’s more straightforward-scary The Inheritance. Writing duo Chris LaMont and Joe Russo parallel recent releases like Mike Flanagan’s The Fall of the House of Usher and Radio Silence’s Abigail, whether in greed-driven tones or lockdown confinement. The Inheritance was initially set to be a Netflix Original, but the streaming juggernaut dropped the completed product in early 2023, allowing producers to seek alternate distribution. It’s an odd move that presumes quality concerns, but I’ve seen far worse Netflix horror exclusives — more ambitious, but far less successful. There’s nothing awful about The Inheritance; it’s merely paint-by-numbers generational survival horror.

The film’s original title, The Last Will and Testament of Charles Abernathy, better describes what to expect. Bob Gunton stars as 74-year-old billionaire Charles Abernathy, who’s invited his four children home on the eve of his 75th birthday. Drew (Austin Stowell) manages the family’s charitable arm with wife Hannah (Briana Middleton), Kami (Peyton List) is building Abernathy’s online legacy as an influencer, while “The Twins” — C.J. (David Walton) and Madeline (Rachel Nichols) — follow in Charles’ business tycoon footsteps. Charles welcomes his offspring but wastes little time revealing why they’ve been assembled. Charles claims there’s a price on his head to be collected by midnight, and only they can keep him safe — or it’ll cost each child their billion-dollar inheritance.

Brugués capably shoots The Inheritance within the lavish Canadian landmark Hatley Castle, a decadent mega-estate accented by slick wooden varnishes and unlimited chambers. Cinematographer Vincent De Paula positions the camera to devour architectural opulence hidden around every corner, leaning into Charles’ extravagant and infamous lifestyle. The film never approaches gaudiness; The Inheritance breeds jealousy through its visual portrayals of affluence. Brugués’ eye for making the most of empty mansion backdrops is a huge asset, helping the grandiosity of the castle sell its bolted-shut isolation.

Since I’m writing about The Inheritance on Daily Dead and I’ve already connected the story to Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher, you can probably anticipate where horror elements present themselves. Unfortunately, it’s through representations of hellborne evil that LaMont and Russo’s script reveals its flatly pedestrian nature. There’s nothing assertively refreshing about Charles’ "pact," nor does the film’s speedier timeline languish in the patriarch’s sins. Brugués utilizes Charles’ collection of antique statues for a decent head-turning shiver and nails a third-act reveal, but the rest is all seen-it-before sequences where a shadowy figure looms, eyes glowing like miniature bulbs in the background of dimly lit shots. It’s like a shallow speedrun take on Flanagan’s grossly more exciting and in-depth teardown of the despicable Ushers, crammed into an 80-ish minute package that’s not tipping any scales.

The ensemble cast works within cookie-cutter stereotypes, from List’s livestreaming online socialite to Nichols’ cutthroat corporate stooge. Middleton’s performance as the non-blood outsider who tries to unite the bickering Abernathy brood is the most fleshed-out, but even she’s indebted to rigid “Final Girl” tropes. Performances operate in broad strokes, whether Watlon’s pretending he doesn’t hate his life of boardroom servitude or Stowell’s compassionate favorite son schtick. List can only portray Kami as the barebones Instagram starlet we’ve seen mocked a billion times over, although The Inheritance also allows its actors to continue performing in ghastly undead capacities. This is where List shines, crawling from a painting with respect paid to The Ring — the rest is just standard template box-ticking.

Disappointingly, nothing ever feels pushed over the edge in The Inheritance. It’s routinely safe and deceptively underbaked. We’ve explored these jealous and filthy-rich themes before, and The Inheritance has nothing new to add to the conversation. Sometimes, Brugués nails the shot — while some deaths are off-screen, others leave a startlingly grotesque impact. Other times, sequences featuring heavy action or spine-shattering special effects play out with an odd hesitance. Scenes take extra-long beats between dialogue or during a character’s plummet downward after falling over a top-floor banister, which feels less fluid and more staged. It’s a persevering problem throughout the entire production, never fully immersive, and intermittently unconfident.

The Inheritance does enough to get by — but is that enough? With more horror releases per year than ever, filmmakers must try harder than ever to stand out from the pack. Brugués is a more than competent director, and the script has solid bones, but it’s too easily forgotten when competing titles like The First Omen, Exhuma, or Abigail exist. The Inheritance doesn’t embellish demonic darkness, avoid predictable arcs, or accomplish anything that hasn’t already been overdone to death. Juan of the Dead revitalized the zombie subgenre, where The Inheritance gets stuck in the middle of a kajillion other Faustian tall tales that look and operate exactly the same. Ultimately, that’s worse than taking huge swings and striking out.

Movie Score: 2.5/5

  • Matt Donato
    About the Author - Matt Donato

    Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Critics Choice Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.