To claim a life-changing inheritance, a young man is forced to battle his worst enemy…his own father. This is George M Dondero’s black comedy War of the Wills.
The filmmakers behind War of The Wills have classed it as a horror but it’s more a black, angry, and bitter comedy. This 104-minute feature film, which cost $20,000 to make, focuses on a war between two estranged family members. It’s a mischievous film concerning William Hadeon III (played by Kot Takahashi) who, after the death of his grandfather William Hadeon Sr, is forced by the demands set out in his grandfather’s will to spend 29 days in his former home alongside his recently discovered biological father – the insensitive and deceitful William Hadeon Jr. (deliciously played by Steven David Martin). Yes, they are both all called “Will” and this is one of the more subtle puns we will see throughout the film. There is a life-changing amount of money at stake for either of the two Oedipal enemies, but to inherit their share of these riches, neither young Will nor father Will are allowed to leave the premises. The film centers around the dynamic between the two men and their attempts to tolerate and terrorize each other while stuck in close quarters.
While the film doesn’t contain a great deal of visual horror, it does contain a lot of horrible people, and it becomes a little darker as the story progresses and morphs into a more malevolent tale. Director Dondero acts as his own cinematographer and he allows the location of all the animosity, the house itself, to stand out as a character in its own right. His internal shots capture the hoarded, cluttered mess of the rooms, symbolizing the mental state of his antagonists, while his use of close-ups allows us to read every thought in his characters’ facial expressions, adding depth to the story. The exterior shots perfectly capture the surreal atmosphere of the film. The script, co-written by George M. Dondero and Bethany Browning, is clever and reminiscent of the brilliantly devious, Sleuth, while the psychological gameplay between sparring family members brings to mind the classic Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. But with Steven David Martin and Kot Takahashi delivering two fine performances, I’ll let them decide between themselves who wants to be Joan Crawford and who wants to be Bette Davis.
The film does have some flaws, the absence of a proper back story between father and son is missed with the animosity never being fully explained, this leads to the violence and behavior towards each other feeling somewhat overblown. But there is an absence of tension throughout the film and while some of the scenes work, there is a lack of tightness that can be explained by the length of the film. While the aggressive behavior between the two main characters raises some laughs and is a highlight of the film, there isn’t enough material to stretch for the whole 106 minutes and this comes across in a number of scenes that seem superfluous to requirements, particularly those involving the two chaperones. These scenes don’t really add anything to the story and their addition just means It takes longer to get to the much more interesting scenes towards the end of the film.
War of the Wills is a funny, devious, and watchable film that features a strange but captivating plot line. The father and son relationship is a strong one that keeps us watching throughout, but it is the clever and well-written denouement that helps War Of The Wills end strongly, managing to thoroughly satisfy its audience.