After the death of her devoted but sinister grandmother, Claire (Candis Nergaard) – who is prone to fits and seems to have undiagnosed mental and physical conditions – starts ‘seeing things’ in the house she shares with her less otherworldly sister Anna (Jayne Wisener). As her issues escalate, her parents – devoutly religious mother (Denise Stephenson) and more sceptical father (Mark Arden) – push for her to consult different but equally paternalist authorities, the local priest (David Schaal) and a calm doctor (Jonny Phillips). Anna’s boyfriend (David Wayman) tries to set her up with a work friend (writer-director Chris Bell) in a credibly awkward evening that winds up with the inept bloke keeping schtumm about the crucial fact that he’s ‘seen a thing’ too. Gradually, it emerges that whatever’s going on in Claire’s head is going on in the house too – and might well be able to hurt people.
To fill in the premise, we get family flashbacks – it’s seldom a good thing in folk horror-type films if one of your family matriarchs is named after Adam’s first wife Lilith – and a trauma dating back to a troubled first world war veteran and a bargain struck with a local witch woman. The most impressive thing about The Heiress is Nergaard’s performance as a woman whose psychological and literal demons make her hard to help, but who is also surrounded by well-intentioned people who just don’t get how much worse they’re making things. She’s very believable as a woman who gets fed up with being told what to do and how to feel about things no one else really takes seriously.
Nergaard and Wisener have an interesting rapport, and the film takes care to make the ‘normal’ sister interesting and, as the story spins, as much in danger as the haunted yet resilient protagonist. It fits in with a recent strain of horror that’s dealt with intergenerational troubles in female-dominated families – Hereditary, Relic, Reunion – but also has a nice, rooted British feel.