Inherit the Viper (Anthony Jerjen, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
It’s a tale focused around a topic as old as time itself: family. And yet, Anthony Jerjen’s debut film Inherit the Viper doesn’t feel traditional at all. It is a film that pushes that family into newly paved territories, seeing a trio of siblings somewhere in West Virginia caught up in opioid dealing and the violent territory that surrounds it. After a deal goes wrong, the oldest sibling wants out, but not before the family is confronted with a building series of dangerous encounters that challenge the family’s unity.
The film is only as good as the family, and, luckily, the family is pretty good. Both Pearl Harbor’s Josh Hartnett and Adventureland’s Margarita Levieva fulfill the roles of the older siblings with a staunch realism that develops the setting and creates an ever-watchable complexity within their own dynamic. The youngest sibling, portrayed by It’s Owen Teague, fills in many of the emotional gaps within the family, giving an equally character-driven performance that embodies his more innocent and impressionable mind. Likewise, the supporting cast of characters, which includes an engrossing performance by Bruce Dern, do a similarly stellar job at truly delving into the small town atmosphere that the film cultivates.
The direction mirrors the acting, creating a subtle and realistic ambiance that feels fairly timeless in its approach. But while the script provides the actors with many emotional moments to shine in their roles, much of the dialogue ends up feeling too similar, with the overall effect that the film becomes singular in its emotion. Furthermore, Inherit the Viper flounders a bit, thematically, as it unevenly teeters the line between being a family-drama and a thriller and never decides whether it wants to take a political stance, an emotional stance, or both.
The final moments, however, reaffirm the strength of the family-centered narrative, both looking toward the future and mourning the family’s past. Although Inherit the Viper struggles with an almost overly traditional sense of technique, the topic itself is entirely untraditional. Through its ultra-specific approach, it creates a powerful story that is both extremely relevant and intensely universal.