By David Dent
Claire and Anna Tate (Candis Nergaard and Jayne Wisener) are sisters who enjoy a close bond: when we first meet them they’re at a wake following the funeral of their grandmother, Abigail. It is immediately apparent that Anna is the stronger of the two; Claire, who is epileptic and heavily medicated, reads a poem to the guests and then is forced to rest. She has a troubling vision of a burning building.
The sisters’ parents are keen to clear Abigail’s house as soon as possible. When Claire and Anna visit, Anna finds an old book on witchcraft, which contains a story about a woman who does a deal with a witch to be rid of her terrible husband, with the soul of her daughter being forfeit in return, and the promise delivered via a fire which consumes both the husband and the woman’s two sons.
Following the funeral Claire’s health deteriorates, and she has fleeting glimpses of an old woman and a child. Anna’s decision, that she and Claire should double date on an evening out with Anna’s boyfriend Dan (David Wayman) and Dan’s boorish mate Brad (director Chris Bell), is unwise, and comes to an abrupt end back home when Brad also has a vision of a young boy wearing a mask.
Claire becomes convinced that the story she read might be true and that a curse has been visited on the family; pretty much everybody else, Anna and her sister’s doctor included, believe that the problems only exist in Claire’s mind. The only person who believes Claire is local priest, Father O’Shea (David Schaal), who has knowledge of Abigail’s dark history.
Chris Bell’s latest feature couldn’t be more different to his last, 2015’s ‘Hooligans at War: North and South’, the only thing in common being the Essex and Kent locations. Bell here offers a much more subtle piece concentrating principally on the tortured Claire (a superb performance from Negaard). The only ‘war’ here is between science and faith; for most of the film, the viewer is in doubt as to whether Claire’s visions are a product of her own illness or the manifestation of something external and deadly.
‘The Heiress’ is, for most of its running time, a character piece looking at the impact of grief and its effects both on those directly affected and the people who live with those facing loss. As such it’s a subtle film and all the better for it. The slow, creeping dread of the family’s growing realisation that Claire’s torment is supernatural rather than medical takes place among the prosaic locations of suburban sitting rooms and hospital wards, which makes ‘The Heiress’ all the more scary. A realistic and chilling haunted house story for the 21st century.
The Heiress is available to download from all major platforms including iTunes, Amazon, SKY Box Office, Sony and Google from Monday 15th March, 2021.