With its strong script, powerful performances and deft direction The Heiress is a British ghost story that serves up serious chills with its story spanning several generations affected by the supernatural.
Opening at the funeral of their Nan we meet devoted sisters Claire and Anna played by Candis Nergaard and Jayne Wisener. The pair live together under the shadow of Claire’s debilitation illness which sees her suffering from severe seizures, something she has suffered through all her life. Signed off from work indefinitely and treated like an invalid by her family Claire is lost and lonely especially now her grandmother has passed.
When looking through her old possessions Claire comes across a strange old book which brings back memories of the stories her Nan would tell about her own childhood. Before she knows it Claire is seeing horrifying visions and ghastly figures including a mask wearing child and a hideous old crone who wont leave her alone.
With her sister Anna and her boyfriend believing Claire is loosing her mind and her overbearing parents battling over a religious or medical explanation, the mentally strained and increasingly fearful young woman is caught up in a world of torment and terror coming from all sides.
The Heiress brilliantly balances real life drama with nightmarish moments playing up both elements just enough to keep the audience engaged. The drama comes from the conflict between the family and the dynamic between the siblings and their parents. Seen as sickly all her life Claire feels like a burden to her sister and, as she becomes more and more distraught, they start to truly treat her like one.
Although there is lots of work going on in the real world on mental health there is still a massive stigma over this awful and ubiquitous illness and The Heiress attempts to shine a light on this with the terrible way Claire is treated. The acting is excellent especially from the central sisters and credit is definitely due to Jayne Wisener and Candis Nergaard for giving such convincing and compelling performances.
Films like Daniel Isn‘t Real and the superb Black String spend a great deal of time teasing their audience on the reliability of the main character and what they are experiencing however director Chris Bell opts to extinguish this element by having other people witness the wickedness early on, endearing us to Claire and her petrifying plight.
Filled with jump scares and creeping dread the spectral sightings increase in violence and voracity as the film goes on. There are some well executed and freaky flashbacks that go some way to explaining things and Bell brings forth some beautiful nightmarish imagery throughout to up the unnerving feeling the viewer and Claire are caught up in.
Best of all is his use of the urban landscapes the characters occupy which appear as sinister lonely settings, both familiar and fearful all at once. Bland office buildings and random restaurants are shadowy and eerie places when seen through Bell’s eye, his lens highlighting the haunting feeling Claire constantly has once the spirits are unleashed into her life. Most menacing is the suburban house the sisters reside in which looks uncannily similar to a witches hat, a hint at the true tale behind the terror that has infected the families past and present.
Although some might say The Heiress is not massively original in its story or some of its horror stylings, what does work well is the conflict between spirituality and science that is explored. As a devoted Christian Claire’s mother advises her to seek the advice of priest Father John O’Shea (The Inbetweeners David Schaal) who is adamant that the worried woman’s visions are the work of the devil.
The problem is Claire’s father is a non-believer in every way and thinks there must be a scientific answer especially as Claire has stopped taking the pills prescribed for her seizures. The clash between church and hospital, priest and doctor, faith and medicine starts to dominate the film especially when Claire is held in a secure psychiatric facility against her will, pushing her towards the finale and an ultimate realisation as to what is actually happening. In the end it is down to her to take the power back and fight, an empowering message that the movie delivers well.
Its good to see a great British ghost movie and The Heiress definitely has more then enough chilling moments to keep horror heads happy.