Heir Official One SheetTwo distinct characteristics inform the short films of Richard Powell: dark family secrets and viscous secretions. Powell, taking up the torch ignited by Cronenberg, is responsible for creating some of the most startling and intensely emotional body horror imaginable. Worm (2010), Familiar (2012), and now Heir, comprise a loosely composed trilogy exposing the darkness festering in the recesses of the human spirit. Powell’s latest short demonstrates that he is a force among emerging voices in the genre, refusing to compromise when confronting viewers with uncomfortable material.

Heir begins with a father named Gordon (Robert Nolan), and young son Paul (Mateo D’Avino), embarking on a journey to meet up with an old college friend of Gordon’s named Denis (Bill Oberst, Jr.). Upon their initial meet up at a local diner, there’s something instantly repugnant about Denis’ behavior toward Paul—he practically salivates at the sight of the child. Gordon turns a blind eye to Denis’ assertions and once the action moves to Denis’ apartment. The viewer, identifying with the vulnerable Paul, is immediately placed in a threatening environment. We don’t know exactly what Gordon and Denis have planned for the boy, but the foreshadowing in the dialogue is unbearable and leads us to believe Paul will be abused in some way. As the story progresses, it’s clear that Gordon has brought his son before a monster consumed with satiating his perverse needs. Gordon himself will go through a transformation, both figuratively and literally, that places his son in the grips of imminent danger unless he can control his own impulses.

Robert Nolan in Heir (2015) [click to enlarge]

Robert Nolan in Heir (2015) [click to enlarge]

Heir is Powell’s most challenging work to date; it’s a film that uses the misleadingly secure guise of a creature feature to effectively examine an unspeakable act. That’s not to say, however, that the film lacks potency; Heir illuminates the monstrous tendencies of humanity in a way that feels far from safe. Through his lens, Powell insists that the viewer confront child abuse–sexual or otherwise–using metaphorical monsters that in no way shield the viewer from the seriousness of the subject. There is an incredibly daring subtext that will make even seasoned fans recoil. Powell deftly applies sensitivity to the topic despite fantastic elements that, in the wrong hands, could cheapen things.

The surprisingly redemptive quality of Powell’s work is most apparent in Heir. Gordon, akin to the protagonists in Worm and Familiar (all portrayed by Nolan) is united by his unhealthy desires wrought from insecurity, self-loathing, and even sociopathic tendencies–raging Ids seethe beneath, and become responsible for corrupting Gordon and these other family men. Their cruel actions manifest through lesions in the flesh (indicative of mental instability), subsequently inciting horrible acts over which they seemingly have no conscious control. What Powell offers the viewer is a sympathetic portrayal from the perspective of maladjusted men who are ultimately given a choice whether to act upon or resist their dark impulses. Though a monster within may provoke Gordon’s abhorrent acts it does not, in Powell’s view, excuse them.

Bill Oberst Jr. in Heir (2015) [click to enlarge]

Bill Oberst Jr. in Heir (2015) [click to enlarge]

Heir boasts phenomenal practical effects work and is driven by riveting performances from indie stalwarts Nolan and Oberst, Jr. The tension shared between the trio of actors is palpable, and the viewer is left reeling from the dreadful events unfolding around them. Absent here is the voiceover narration that externalizes the inner angst of Nolan’s characters in Worm and Familiar. In Heir we don’t need access to Gordon’s thoughts to understand the inner conflict he’s experiencing. Oberst, Jr.’s lecherous character Denis embodies the role of devil’s advocate–the other side of the same coin–encouraging Gordon to act upon his salacious desires. An ambiguous climax leaves us pondering the ramifications of the terrible indulgences that have transpired, and the significance of the film’s title hints at Paul’s own potential future as an abuser.

Robert Nolan in Heir (2015) [click to enlarge]

Robert Nolan in Heir (2015) [click to enlarge]

Under the Fatal Pictures banner, Powell and producer Zach Green continue to function as one of the most exciting production duos working in genre film. In a landscape where horror is prone to dilution they are pushing the genre in exciting new directions. Though they toil in provocative themes and imagery, they never revel in misery. Indeed, there is always a light at the end of the very gooey tunnel, hinting that Powell believes that humanity, excruciating transformations notwithstanding, is salvageable.