“Heir” (2015): Monsters Walk Among Us

The first time I watched the troubling Canadian short horror film Heir, I knew nothing about it going in except that it starred renowned independent horror film actor Bill Oberst Jr. Less than 14 minutes later when the short finished, I was so thoroughly impressed that I instantly researched more about director Richard Powell and his previous work, and about the short’s other star, Robert Nolan.

Gordon (Robert Nolan) lives in a dark world indeed in Heir.
Gordon (Robert Nolan) lives in a dark world indeed in Heir.

Heir holds many surprises and shocks as its story unfolds, and I don’t want to ruin those for potential viewers because I’m sure most will want to feel the same disconcerting sense of wondering just what is going on that I did, so forgive me for not going into too many plot details. Gordon (Robert Nolan) arranges a meeting for someone with himself and his teenaged son Paul (Mateo D’Avino). That someone is Denis (Bill Oberst Jr.), allegedly an old college buddy of Gordon’s. Gordon is nervous before and during the initial meet-up in a diner, but Denis shows off a creepy confidence, nonchalantly goading and intimidating Gordon. Denis’s assertive button-pushing continues when the trio moves to Denis’s home, but Gordon  continues to suffer the verbal abuse. What happens next is dark, disquieting stuff.

Richard Powell sets up an ominous tone from the beginning. The suspense and questions build to a climax with disturbing imagery. It is unfair both to reveal what kind of horror is on display here and to not reveal it. Suffice it to say that Heir addresses real-life monsters and those of the fanciful, fictitious kind, as well. The balance seems like a difficult one to strike but Powell nails it, addressing the seriousness that the topic commands while putting a unique narrative spin on the proceedings.

Denis (Bill Oberst Jr.) heightens Gordon's sense of unease as Gordon's son Paul (Mateo D'Avino) looks on.
Denis (Bill Oberst Jr.) heightens Gordon’s (Robert Nolan) sense of unease as his  son Paul (Mateo D’Avino) looks on.

Bill Oberst Jr. is mesmerizing as the leering, menacing Denis, casually eating an egg sandwich while asserting dominion over Gordon, questioning his skills as a father. Later, when Denis shows his true colors to Gordon, Oberst Jr. gives a jarring, gripping, unnerving performance as he drools in a euphoric state. Robert Nolan is outstanding  in his role, as well, portraying a nervous man, unsure of himself and what he is doing, who struggles between giving into evil and protecting his son. Those are not his only struggles; he has been trying to suppress some deep-seated desires for some time, it seems, and Denis is more than happy to try to persuade him to give himself over to them. The facial expressions alone that these two actors present are a clinic in top-notch performances.

The special make-up effects by The Butcher Shop are first rate. Again, I don’t want to give away spoilers, but there are some practical creature effects (along with a brief bit of CGI) on offer, and the gooey, slithering things displayed are a marvelous complement to the rest of the film.

The powerful performances of Robert Nolan (left) and Bill Oberst Jr. are reason enough to seek out "Heir."
The powerful performances of Robert Nolan (left) and Bill Oberst Jr. are reason enough to seek out Heir.

Richard Powell’s script is lean and taut, sometimes giving space for the actors to convey powerful emotional moments and to advance the story with silent glances and stares rather than dialogue, and his  direction is equally impactful. Director of photography Michael Jari Davidson shows off some splendid cinematography and editor John Nicholls does a terrific job of keeping things suspenseful. Composer Christopher Guglick and sound designer Justin Long-Him Shum work well together to provide an ominous soundscape, sometimes using as little as an underlying, throbbing synthesizer hum and sometimes using the space that only silence can provide.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, I wanted to learn more about director Richard Powell’s work and discovered that Heir is the third work in a loose trilogy, preceded by Worm (2010) and Familiar (2012). Not only am I excited to track down this auteur’s previous efforts, I’m anxiously looking forward to what he comes up with next.

Heir: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.