Now on Hulu, Inherit the Viper is a Josh Hartnett vehicle, which is a phrase I haven’t used in a long, long time. In this gritty drama, the Lucky Number Slevin star plays an Oxycontin dealer in the isolated small-town environs of Appalachia, so let’s see if the film has something to say about the ongoing opioid epidemic, or is just another B-movie that time is already starting to forget.
The Gist: Josie Conley (Margarita Levieva) sits in the dank of a dim bar, listening to a woman justify her need for a little pain relief. She pulls out some cash and Josie hands her two potent Oxy doses, and a few minutes later, the woman is face-down dead in the bathroom. Josie picks up the dropped Oxy tablet and skedaddles home to her two brothers, Kip (Hartnett) and the teenage Boots (Owen Teague). We soon learn that the specter of their father hangs over them — Kip only remembers a deadbeat who spent too much time in prison, but Boots recalls a good man, and when they come to blows over it, Josie breaks up the scuffle.
Kip works a clockpunching lunchpail day job at the mill, and at night rustles up pills for Josie to distribute. His girlfriend Eve (Valorie Curry) is pregnant, so ends gotta meet. Josie parks in the bleachers at the high school football game and when Kip texts her, she drops a baggie down below for him to hand out. Boots wants to get involved in the family business, but Kip resists; he’s losing a taste for it, but Josie sees no other choice for them. Things get hairy when Kip sits down for his lunch break at the mill and the OD’ed woman’s burly husband threatens to pummel him.
Hairier still is Boots’ need to be more than just an observer of his siblings’ criminal activity, which prompts him and a naive pal to arrange a deal that goes nowhere but dead south. It’s another signal for Kip to reconsider his life choices, putting him at odds with Josie; cue a lengthy speech from the local crotchety bar owner (Bruce Dern) who’s seen it all and none of it ain’t no good. And yes, this is one of those situations in movies where these types of things inevitably get worse before they get better.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Shades of that other Appalachia-set drama here — Winter’s Bone, which you no doubt recall made Jennifer Lawrence a star — mix with a bit of modern TV great Justified and Scott Cooper’s weighty blue-collar drama Out of the Furnace.
Performance Worth Watching: Hartnett ain’t half bad as a pressure cooker of a man whose inner conflict is about to bust to the surface. Too bad the character is only about two-thirds written.
Memorable Dialogue: “That venom is in you. In all of you.” — Dern’s scraggly ol’ coot invokes the symbolism in the movie title
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Inherit the Viper is a gritty ties-that-bind drama that’s tied down by its silly look-ma-I’m-a-writer title and an underwritten, overwrought screenplay. Irony takes the primary narrative spotlight as the son that hates the dad does exactly what the dad did, and the son that loves the dad wants to do what the dad did but can’t. Meanwhile, Josie is grimly determined to push forward no matter the cost, relentlessly asserting the no-way-out-of-thisness of the situation; are her reasons for going dark and darker pragmatic or psychological? Who knows. Meanwhile, it features one of the least convincing football sequences in film history, prompting the only strong reaction I had during its 85-minute run time.
The Conley family clearly is a dark cloud over this small community, but we have no real sense of the scope and context of their predicament. Their neighbors may consider them scum and they likely feel isolated, but all we can do is assume. They might get busted by the cops, one of whom is cheating on his wife with Josie, upholding their “delicate balance” — something established in two or three thinly rendered scenes. The Conleys feel trapped and hemmed-in by this situation, but why? What’s stopping them from working at the local A&P? Do they want more than what they’ve got? Do they aspire to be criminals as an act of defiance against a world that has rejected them? What exactly has made them who they are — besides a wisp of an assumption that their father programmed them to be dope dealers? Again: Who knows.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Inherit the Viper is a crime-drama that wants to be a tenacious, character-driven crime drama, but it’s undercooked and vaguely satisfying at best.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
Stream Inherit the Viper