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On Blu-ray/DVD: INHERIT THE VIPER (2020) and THE SONATA (2020)

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INHERIT THE VIPER
(Germany/US - 2020)


Contrary to what the title might indicate, INHERIT THE VIPER is not the name of a circa-2001 metalcore band with two lead vocalists--one gurgly and one yelpy. Rather, it's a somber and downbeat look at a family of rural Alabama oxycodone dealers at a turning point. The Conleys--Kip (Josh Hartnett), his sister Josie (THE DEUCE's Margarita Levieva), and their baby brother Boots (Owen Teague)--were largely left to fend for themselves growing up after their mother split and their drug lord father died when Boots was five. Kip and Josie try to keep Boots as isolated from their business as possible, but he's a Conley and he wants to be part of the local "legend." That the Conleys are the town's chief suppliers of oxy and heroin is an open secret, but Kip is feeling the heat after a local woman dies from a bad dose supplied by Josie. He's got a very pregnant fiancee (Valorie Curry), and a decent day job at the local mill, and between the dead woman--whose enraged husband (Brad William Henke) also works at the mill--and intervening in a clandestine side deal orchestrated by an ambitious Boots and his buddy Cooper (Chandler Riggs, best known from his days as Carl on THE WALKING DEAD) that results in him killing two troublemakers who try to rip off Boots, Kip decides it's over and they're done dealing. Not so, says Josie, who vows to "fix this" because "This is who we are!"





INHERIT THE VIPER plays a lot like a pilot episode for a SONS OF ANARCHY-type FX series about the dynamics of a white trash oxy empire. Debuting director Anthony Jerjen does a very thorough job of establishing the atmosphere with effective location work in some beaten-down areas of Birmingham, AL that can charitably be described as "unwelcoming," vividly capturing the bleak and depressing surroundings in the same way as WINTER'S BONE and OUT OF THE FURNACE. Andrew Crabtree's script probably could've used another run-through, with Kip and Boots more or less stock characters: Kip is a shrewd businessman but has a good heart in the way he skims off the inventory to give a few pills to a struggling local veteran, and Boots is the naive kid who wants to make his mark in the family business but is dumb enough to buy himself a flashy, attention-getting sports car and drive it to a drug buy. We keep hearing about how no one fucks with the Conleys, but that's all anyone seems to do, and Kip's instant response is "OK, we're done, we're walking away."


The most interesting and complex character is Josie, with Levieva quietly adding layers to what could've been a one-note villain role, and delivering an internalized and very convincing performance as a hardened, ruthless woman who won't let minor inconveniences like some missing teenagers and a few dead bodies take away the only thing she knows how to do. The local color extends to the very real portrayal of a close-knit small town, albeit one slowly rotting from the inside thanks to the severe economic downturn as well as the Conleys. They go to all the home football games where Kip deals under the bleachers, and Josie goes to AA meetings also attended by the sheriff (Dash Mihok), who was her boyfriend in high school, is her current occasional fuck-buddy, and is pretty sure some shell casings he's found match a gun he knows the Conleys own. INHERIT THE VIPER takes place in the kind of forgotten underclass nowhere that progress has left behind: no one's ever left, and you either work at the mill, join the military, or become a junkie, and supplying that demand is synonymous with the name "Conley." There's a lot of interesting elements in play here, but it's impossible to dig deep and flesh any of them out in a film where the closing credits roll at 78 minutes. It also squanders Bruce Dern, who has a few scenes as a cantankerous, wheelchair-bound, emphysema-stricken bar owner whose only real purpose is to inspire Kip's fateful final decision by telling a him story about a kid being bitten on the hand by a snake, and metaphorically asking him whether or not "you're gonna cut off the arm to save the body."(R, 84 mins)



THE SONATA
(Germany/France/UK/Latvia/Russia - 2019; US release 2020)


There's a feeling of the familiar throughout the minor supernatural horror film THE SONATA, but it establishes a little more cred than expected thanks to director/co-writer Andrew Desmond displaying a natural gift for atmospheric details and striking shot compositions. He gets a huge assist from location work at the Cesvaine Palace in Latvia, and with its foreboding appearance outside and the BARRY LYNDON-esque natural lighting inside, it looks a lot like the a present-day throwback to the kind of gothic horror films that Hammer or Amicus would've made in the early 1970s. The film opens with reclusive classical composer Richard Marlowe (the late Rutger Hauer, in one of his last films) putting the finishing touches on his final masterwork, after which he proceeds to douse himself in gasoline and set himself ablaze. His only heir is his estranged daughter, renowned violin prodigy Rose Fisher (Freya Tingley), who has no memories of him as he abandoned her mother when Rose was just a year old. She's kept the identity of her father a secret, even from her devoted manager Charles (Simon Abkarian), to avoid any chance of the connection furthering her career. As Charles puts it, Marlowe was "more notorious than famous," and an ex-colleague (James Faulkner) calls him a mad, innovative genius who flamed out too young, describing him as "the Syd Barrett of classical music."






Rutger Hauer (1944-2019)
Rose travels to the French castle where Marlowe locked himself away, and finds the final composition, a violin sonata that seems erratic and unplayable. The music is accompanied by strange symbols, there's a chapel in the woods where Marlowe was up to some weird shit, and the more Charles digs into the mystery, the more unstable he becomes. It seems Marlowe was the leader of a secret sect that believed music had the capacity to "unlock portals between worlds," and that his final, epic composition--which he'd been working on for decades--was a Satanic sonata written specifically to conjure the Antichrist when performed. Yes, THE SONATA is quite silly, it can't really decide if Rose or Charles should be the main character, it succumbs to some dodgy late-film CGI, and Hauer probably didn't work more than a day on it. Nevertheless, the promising Desmond establishes a quaintly retro British horror vibe, he throws a couple of bones to Italian horror fans, with one TENEBRAE shout-out that's never surprising at this point but it's always a welcome sight, and the striking interiors of the Cesvaine Palace make this look a lot more expensive than it likely was. (Unrated, 88 mins)


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