Review by Sean Boelman
Ephraim Asili’s The Inheritance is the type of film that seems to have been made more as a work of art than anything else. And while Asili’s self-expression is certainly intriguing, the movie eventually falls apart into a series of political and artistic vignettes that don’t make for much of a cohesive experience.
The film follows a group of young Black people who form a collective when one of them inherits a house from their grandmother. It’s an interesting concept that offers the potential for a great exploration of Black art and identity, but Aisili’s mistake is in not crafting a compelling enough narrative around these fascinating ideas.
For the first thirty minutes or so, the movie will hook the audience's attention with a somewhat abstract presentation of these Black artists presenting things they have created or learned based on their reflection on themselves and the society in which they live. However, it doesn’t keep up this momentum for the entirety of the runtime.
The middle section of the film takes a significant detour and begins to explore some of the history of the Philadelphia-based group MOVE. And while the point of including this in the story is obvious, it is clumsily done in a way that makes that portion of the movie feel like a pamphlet for the organization being read out loud.
It is only in the final third that conflict really comes into play, but by that point, the film will have already lost a majority of viewers’ attention. It feels like much of the movie simply exists as a frame to showcase the many ideas floating around Asili’s head, and while some of them are thought-provoking, others are dead ends.
Thankfully, all of the actors in the film are very good and they manage to keep the movie afloat even when the dialogue is a little too artificial. Like a real-life collective, this cast would only be as strong as its weakest link, and there isn’t one here, as everyone feels like they are contributing to the whole quite well.
It is on a technical level that the film is most successful. Its visual style is just as raw and packed with emotion as the art being created by the characters. Asili puts an intense level of detail into his movie, planting homages and references throughout, showing that there are layers upon layers to dissect in his work.
The Inheritance is an impressive experiment, but not always the most compelling in terms of filmmaking. Still, there are so many amazing ideas happening here to make it worth a watch, even if it doesn’t ever come together.
The Inheritance opens in virtual cinemas on March 12. A list of participating locations can be found here.