For every good choice in Vaughn Stein’s sophomore effort — the director previously helmed the Margot Robbie-starring curiosity “Terminal” — there are at least three more that fall flat, victims of obvious plotting, silly tropes, and shoddy character building. A mostly predictable thriller, “Inheritance” spends the majority of its nearly two-hour running time doling out formulaic twists and undoing seemingly essential elements of its main characters, but patient audiences might be rewarded by its occasionally unnerving final act. Strong work from star Lily Collins, who manages to ride out the film’s oddest missteps, helps, though co-star Simon Pegg is less successful at the big swings required of his character (and his very, very bad wig).
The film’s frantic opening goes to great pains to enforce two major plot points: rising district attorney Lauren Monroe (Collins) is driven by her desire to help victims, but her wealthy family (including father Archer, who dies during said frantic opening, and her politically striving brother William) isn’t nearly as compelled to look out for the little guy. Lauren is in the midst of literally delivering the key points of her ethos (she’ll never take bad deals from big business!) during a courthouse press conference when the news comes in: her rich dad (Patrick Warburton) is dead, what does she think about that?
Given the fraught nature of their relationship — explained away by both flashbacks and other characters all but saying to Lauren, “hey, you had a fraught relationship with your dad, we know” — Lauren has plenty to think about it. Archer’s will, which pointedly gives the bulk of his wealth to Lauren’s mom (an underutilized Connie Nielsen) and William (Chace Crawford, well-cast but given little to do), only makes the divide between father and daughter that much more stark. But secreted away to Lauren, care of family lawyer Harold (Michael Beach), comes an amendment: the true titular inheritance, a bad one that forces Lauren to answer for her own father’s mistakes in the grimmest possible way. (Later, yes, someone will wryly say, “That’s quite the inheritance!”)
If nothing else, Stein’s film zips along to this revelation in the minimum of time: barely 15 minutes into the film, and Lauren has already unearthed her father’s worst secret, one she is now tasked with handling (don’t bother asking why, the film will never answer that seemingly key question). Tucked away in a bunker (where did the bunker come from? again, don’t ask) on the Monroes’ sprawling estate, there is a broken man (Pegg), her father’s prisoner for some three decades (why? that, at least, will be answered repeatedly, though never in satisfying fashion).
Given the two things that Matthew Kennedy’s script hammers home throughout the opening of “Inheritance” — again, Lauren is defined by her need to help victims, her family doesn’t seem to care about anyone but themselves — the expectation that her horrifying discovery would inspire a deep moral reckoning is to be expected. In some ways, that’s the film’s biggest, stupidest twist of all: Lauren doesn’t give a shit about Morgan (Pegg), instantly believing that he must be guilty of some horrible crime for her father (again, kind of a jerk) to have him chained up for 30 years. For a district attorney, the gal sure has a damning lack of interest in a little something called due process.
Hobbled by this brain-bending narrative twist, Lauren and Morgan fall into a limp cat and mouse game, with Lauren demanding that Morgan explain himself and his situation and Morgan, well, repeatedly providing evidence that he is the wronged party (what, did the horrific imprisonment tip you off?). As the “shocks” pile up and Lauren starts crumbling in the face of still more proof that her family is very bad indeed, “Inheritance” drags onward into more predictable spaces. Genuinely creepy bits are few and far between, but Morgan’s unnerving bunker adds necessary chills, as does Lauren’s growing sense of disconnection from everyone else in her life.
“Inheritance” chugs along through a slack second act, one filled with revelations and seeming surprises that never land with much of an impact. But perhaps all that predictability and relative boredom are simply meant to lull both Lauren — who transforms into the kind of scheming, hardened shark her father would have adored — and the audience into the sense that they know where all of this is going.
Though Stein’s film doesn’t exactly work up to a big surprise, it does unveil some new twists in its final act that hint at better craftsmanship than what was initially on offer. Even Pegg’s middling performance gets a big boost, and the actor is allowed to add some shine to an otherwise flat role. It only takes about 90 minutes to get there (though fans of watching Collins drive back and forth between NYC and Connecticut are in for a big treat), and its information-laden final minutes inspire far more questions than answers, but at least “Inheritance” attempts to right some of its wrongs before laying itself to rest. Now that’s an inheritance!
Vertical Entertainment will release “Inheritance” On Demand and digital on Friday, May 22.