Running time: 24 mins
Director: Richard Powell
Starring: Robert Nolan, Astrida Auza, Cathryn Hostick
In 2008 Richard Powell and producer Zach Green delivered their atmospheric horror Consumption which deals with the unique and difficult subject of voluntary cannibalism. Two years later they offer up the first half of the disturbed Dodd brothers (Geoffrey) played by Robert Nolan who is a gentle and quiet high school teacher with something dark and malevolent rotting inside of him. Familiar sees Geoffrey’s brother John (also played by Robert Nolan) as he survives a suburban existence with wife Charlotte (Auza) and daughter Jordan (Hostick) which he has come to detest. With an increasingly forceful voice inside his head demanding he breaks free from this life he slowly comes to suspect that the voice is not his own. It’s only after a series of traumatic events at home that John comes face to face with his conflict.
One of the most amazing things about Familiar is the cinematography, rarely do you see an independent film, let alone a short film with such a high caliber look to it. The slow, stillness of the camera allows the audience to ease their way into the film. It connotes the almost stationary suburban world which we have come to know in North American cinema but it is also a stylistic visual representation of John’s ‘psychosis’ as it slowly sneaks up on him in a non confrontational way. It’s only later in the film, the final third, that the cinematography takes on more of an offensive edge and visually attacks the audience. The use of the camera to represent the unrepresented is not a new device in cinema, it has been used for as long as cinema has existed. When adapted to literature it can be compared to the structuring of the sentence in showing just how old and affective tool this style is. That should take nothing away from Powell’s eye as it’s actually an incredibly difficult stylistic to achieve as left to the wrong director it can appear as showy and forced. The subtly of the camera is beautiful.
Powell’s script is also perfectly balanced. The initial encounter of John shows him in a particularly dislikeable light yet at the same time you can relate to his disillusionment and though not condone his attitude to his family can at least understand…to a point. It is only with his wife’s loss that your allegiances are truly tested. Credit must be given to Powell for his ability to write human characters. So many horror films have believable and complex antagonists and monsters but all too often where they fall down is the writing of the ordinary decent protagonist. Powell has crafted not just a family in crisis but a family that is, excuse the pun, 'familiar'. There is enough in the quiet moments that will allow the audience to fill in the blanks with their experiences rather than the usual clunky horror exposition. It is this confidence, not just in the writing and the cast but also in the audience is a breath of fresh air for those of us that have been all too often been talked down to by horror films through the use of plodding dialogue and manipulative music.
Robert Nolan is perfect in the role of John. He has a quiet, almost broken, surface presence of a man that has drifted through the recent years of his life but it is behind the eyes that you can see the cogs of Nolan crafting what you think at first is rage and anger but soon becomes conflict between him and the voice. His interaction with Auza is one of a man that doesn’t know his own emotions and is both tragic and menacing and gives the film an unbelievable tension that can’t be scripted or forced.
The effects in the final third of the film are what set Familiar apart from the vast majority of short films. It has the vision of an early David Cronenberg or Brian Yuzna. The initial emergence of the ‘parasite’ is like a blistering tumor that pulses with John’s heart, as the conflict advances it takes on the aesthetic of scar tissue as its burns deeper and deeper into his being in an attempt to break his will and gain full control and in the final scene, once trapped by John, creates the presumed texture of rock as it takes its last stand against a father, a husband, determined to win. The shooting of the extraction is beautifully constructed as the audience is presented with enough gore to kick start their imagination but not enough to come across as low brow or horror porn. It’s sat this point I’d love to heap more praise on aspects of the film but there’s been enough given away so I won’t.
There have been few horror cinematic pleasures of late that come even close to watching Familiar. Powell and Green have achieved what all great horror films strive to do, it has tapped into real and common human issues and in doing so have molded them into an alternative (and frightening) manifestation of the fears we all have. Familiar is a deeply atmospheric body shocker that will get under your skin. You’ll claw your own flesh away trying to overcome the affect the film will have on you.