“Ain’t nothing like the real thing”
It’s not difficult to parse what’s happening after watching Gordon (Robert Nolan) chat online about his son with an as yet unnamed partner. The verbiage is simple and direct: “my son” with photo and a “play date??? :)” in reply. His anxiety and fear is palpable, but he doesn’t stop. He’s ready to take a leap that leaves no room for turning back and his transformation into the monster necessary to do so has begun to take shape with his flesh opening wide. Gordon is about to embrace a side of himself he has fought decades to suppress. His father did it to him long ago and the soon-to-be-revealed Denis’ (Bill Oberst Jr.) dad did it to him too. They’re both victims turned predators ready to feed.
But writer/director Richard Powell allows for a chance at redemption in his body horror metaphor on pedophilia entitled Heir. He plants the seeds of doubt and compassion in Gordon—traits his father never showed him. Until he’s in Denis’ presence to truly come face-to-face with the prospect of becoming that which he feared most as child, Gordon can’t know for sure whether he’s willing to take the plunge. This doesn’t mean Powell is providing an excuse. He’s not saying these monsters can’t help themselves because they are part of a darkly heinous cycle outside of their control. No, he’s showing how the pain can be stopped. That being a monster is a choice. What we are as people isn’t beholden to what’s expected of us.
Denis and Gordon may have experienced the same things growing up, but how they reconciled those acts and unpackaged them in adulthood proves vastly different. One practically licks his lips at the prospect of fresh meat while the other can barely wipe the sweat from his brow as he second-guesses what he’s unleashed. You could say the potential to be a monster is in us all whether or not we were touched by any horrific aftereffects. Love, joy, promise—many things can contribute to making it so we never fathom the vile decisions made by those beyond reprieve. Some tragically embrace the darkness and relish its brutality while others see the signs of becoming what they disgust and work tirelessly to excise every remnant.
There’s a psychological basis beneath Heir‘s creature effects and viscous fluids that makes you understand the struggle to be human. This message goes beyond its selection of pedophilia as the crime at its center. You could make the same case for theft, murder, rape, and simply being a good person. Every time you compromise your humanity—no matter how small—a piece of you disappears. The light inside grows dimmer until there’s nothing left but emptiness and evil. Powell has brought that creature out by giving it visceral form to disgust and haunt our dreams. He shows the filth that walks among us in its true form just as he delivers a sliver of hope. Every cycle can be broken if you’re strong enough fight.