The Inheritance (2011)

Watching The Inheritance, it’s hard not to think of it as an Afro-centric spin on the classic British thriller The Wicker Man, with their similarly constructed story lines about people lured to a remote locale by hosts who have dark, ulterior motives. Luckily, writer-director Robert O’Hara resisted the urge to call it The Wigga Man — an indication of the welcome level of restraint and refinement that raises The Inheritance above the more throwaway examples of modern “urban horror.”

Far from urban, in fact, The Inheritance takes place entirely in the country — and in the middle of the snow, no less, making it the most unlikely setting for a group of African Americans to gather outside of a Ron Howard film.

In the movie, five 30-something cousins — Lily (Rochelle Aytes), Tyrone (Darrin Dewitt Henson), Simpson (Shawn Michael Howard), Henry (D.B. Woodside) and Karen (Golden Brooks) — receive an invitation to a family reunion organized by Uncle Melvin (the ubiquitous Keith David) and a group of family “elders.” Four of the five — all but well-to-do doctor Karen — are eager to hit up the old folks for loans and have little patience for the Afro-centric pomp and circumstance of the gathering, during which Melvin regales them with the story of Chakabazz, an African slave supposedly endowed with mystical powers to whom the family owes its freedom and prosperity.

The jaded, greedy whippersnappers are about to learn the cost of this prosperity — and it’s way more than the sweat Debbie Allen talks about in Fame. Bodies start to hit the floor, and in a fun, turnabout-is-fair-play scenario, the deaths begin with “token” white couple Martin and Julie, whom Simpson brought along for the trip.

The Inheritance is far from a great movie — the scares lack punch, the characters are annoying (and creepily incestuous, which no one seems to have a problem with) and inadvisable attempts at humor fall flat — but given the sub-3 IMDb rating, it’s also underrated, especially in light of the glut of awful direct-to-video genre fare being released weekly. The cast is strong, there are some occasionally striking visuals (in particular, a hanged slave pulling himself out of the noose) and the African mythology is one not often explored in horror films.

O’Hara is actually an acclaimed playwright, and his script is literate — although perhaps at the cost of horror potency and any semblance of logic (Seriously, why not just punch those damn senior citizens in their dentures?), but hey, maybe this is why black people don’t venture into the snowy countryside.

A scene from the horror movie The Inheritance
Leslie was so transparent.
A scene from the horror movie The Inheritance
“Play it again, Sam. I dare you.”
A scene from the horror movie The Inheritance
The Wiz 2 ended on a darker note.
A scene from the horror movie The Inheritance
“Arrrr…”
A scene from the horror movie The Inheritance
Julie had a particularly ornery menstrual cycle.
A scene from the horror movie The Inheritance
Never play tag in South Side, Chicago.

What do you think?