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Review: Inherit the Viper


- Young Swiss director Anthony Jerjen presents his feature debut, an intense family story with tragic implications

Review: Inherit the Viper
Josh Hartnett in Inherit the Viper

Anthony Jerjen’s first feature, Inherit the Viper [+see also:
interview: Anthony Jerjen
film profile
, directed from a script by Andrew Crabtree and produced by Michel Merkt in collaboration with Benito and Wolfgang Mueller (line producer) from Barry Films, is a very promising debut.

Inherit the Viper, which is having its world premiere at the Zurich Film Festival and features a resolutely intriguing cast (which includes Josh Hartnett, Margarita Levieva, Bruce Dern and Owen Teague), aims to “touch the public like a great thriller, but also to represent a kind of warning, a story to avoid,” as Benito Mueller said. The film indeed broaches the difficult topic of the disconcerting spread of pain medication and of opioid analgesics in particular across the US, a phenomenon which now seems unstoppable, a modern plague too often ignored.

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In a rural area somewhere in West Virginia, the Riley family, composed of a sister and her two brothers, tries to survive on the money made from the illegal painkillers trade. Josie, the sister, manages the business with an iron hand, while her brother Kip, a former soldier played by Hartnett with surprising realism, handles the dangerous consequences of their illegal activities. Indeed, the family feels increasingly isolated from the local community, sucked into a parallel world where only the strongest survive. Kip would like to get out, but his younger brother (Teague, who offers a touching performance) is doing all he can to join the family business. Like any self-respecting thriller, Inherit the Viper takes the audience’s breath away, leaving us at the mercy of an unscrupulous world dominated by violence and rejection.

The first feature from the young Geneva-born director, shot in the heart of the United States among poor white communities, sets up a family microcosm in which the fight for survival becomes an everyday struggle. The Rileys find themselves caught in a spiral of violence they cannot control, the victims of a thankless universe which leaves no space for humanity, let alone solidarity.

How did a young Swiss director manage to film a world which, in many ways, seems incredibly distant from his own? Though Inherit the Viper cannot (and does not try to) compare with a film by Roberto Minervini, the undisputed king of documentaries about the most desolate and remote areas of the United States, the film beautifully holds its own, thanks to a realist aesthetic which never falls into caricature and promises interesting surprises in the future.

Almost every sequence in the film is set at night (one must salute the excellent work of cinematographer Nicholas Wiesnet), lending the film an extra layer of poetry, despite the violence present in most scenes. The choice to often show the characters in obscurity or against the light, as though the darkness had slowly began to swallow them, is smart and allows the audience to film the danger on a visceral level.

Anthony Jerjen successfully avoids the pitfall of moralism by showing characters who are constantly embroiled with what we might call the “grey area.” The good and the bad meet and collide, fuse and separate, as if to remind us that often, in order to survive, it is necessary to accept the darker side of ourselves. Inherit the Viper courageously addresses an important but uncomfortable topic which deserves to be tackled head-on. The result is raw and direct. It’s a slice of life filmed where hope has been replaced by despair. 

Inherit the Viper was produced by Barry Films. International sales are handled by Wild Bunch International Sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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