Getting Familiar - An Interview with Director Richard Powell

When it comes to the horror genre there's as many ditches as peaks on the cinematic landscape.  It's the marriage of supernatural and humanistic themes that create the most iconic film offerings that stand the test of time because they've been able to tap into an instinctive, evolutionary, fear that lives within us as a species.  Over the past three years Richard Powell has documented the underlying darkness that lives in the souls of man with Consumption, Worm and now Familiar and has breathed fresh life and intelligence into a genre that has become increasingly obsessed with gratuitous imagery over any actual narrative.  I've been fortunate to be able to pick the brains of the man who is making all the right moves in cinema.

Q: You worked with Robert Nolan on Worm, was the film written with him in mind?  Also I’ve read that the protagonists’ Dodd (in both films) are brothers so the horror in each film are, literally, related.  Does the idea of nature vs nurture interest your idea of the human psyche?

A: Familiar was written more with Worm in mind than anything else. I became interested in exploring the themes of Worm from a new perspective and since Robert was a giant part of Worm he came along subconsciously in my mind as I started working on the Familiar script. As I wrote I envisioned Robert in the scenes, saying the lines and voicing the narration. It was a natural choice and ultimately the right one. In bringing up the idea of nature vs nurture you've hit the nail on the head concerning the Dodd brothers. In Worm Geoffrey Dodd is a product of his choices, surroundings and the multitude of uncontrollable factors that impact our lives day to day. Familiar suggests some of our more malicious and destructive urges are inherent in us, or whatever it is that causes these urges is inherent within us as a race. I don’t adhere to either belief exclusively as I find both are valid. Some people are born bad, others get there.

Q: The twin link that supposedly exists, does Geoff’s actions in Worm have anything to do with John’s voice?

A: I think its more fun to speculate. Perhaps every rotten thing done by every bad person in history has to do with what we come to learn about John's voice. Or maybe its more a matter of the parents we have, the paths we choose and the choices we make?  

Q: Can we expect further instalments from the Dodd family?

A: Hopefully so! Im currently working on the Worm feature screenplay which means more Geoffrey Dodd! There are other ideas floating around in my head concerning the Dodd family but first things first, WORM!

Q: The film has a lot of the ‘Everyday’ in the first act, how important is it for you to ground your work against what could been seen as the ordinary?

A: Its very important for me because the character of John Dodd aside from one very out there element is a real person who exists in the real world. His actions are horrific and disgusting on a realistic level in that they are devious and insidious as most true evil is. The real villains of the world conceal their motives and cover their tracks as bold faced treachery is ineffective. Real evil is more concerned with corruption, sabotage and manipulation.

Q: The film has a real feel of a Sam Mendes/David Cronenberg/Frank Henenlotter hybrid.  What were the main body horror influences for you as a fan of the genre?

A: I do love Cronenberg but I can honestly say the body horror genre had no direct influence on Familiar. My film is inspired by the character and themes of Worm which is in reality a dramatic character study with horror elements. I view Familiar in a similar way.

Q: Horror at its best seems to thrive on the idea of having diminished control of your own thoughts or actions. This is beautifully manifested in the final act of the film, how was the finished parasite arrived at?

A: From the start I knew this was the end game of the film. The story is about discovering what our inner darkness is and where it comes from. There was also the notion of playing with audience expectation concerning the narration which I had introduced in my previous film. In Worm you trust the narrator, feel as though you know him and understand his trajectory but then he starts to dive deeper and darker and before long you’ve been taken down a path you didn’t know you were on and left alone in a spooky, creepy place. In Familiar I employ the same technique but where things differ is with the narrator himself, or “itself”. The “parasite” is the most dominant voice in the film yet remains unseen for almost the entire running time. That was always the conceit of the film and where I feel it has the most power.

Q: Thematically you seem to have an interest in what ‘lives’ inside the individual, is this something you’ll progress as a director?

A; I think so, I feel obsessed right now with interior drama and the consequences they can have on the external world. Everybody is living with secrets, something inside of them that they hide and guard at all costs. We can’t expose our selves fully so much of what we are is hidden, suppressed and reigned in. This kind of suppression causes stress, frustration and anger. In Worm Geoffrey is trapped by his fears of failure, his inability to act one way or the other and remains in a kind of purgatory between the heaven of true love and creativity and the hell of insatiable, inconsolable violence. In Familiar John is trapped in a family life which is totally unfulfilling and suffocating and will do anything to escape it. In both cases you have the urge to manifest the internal desire in the external world but to do so would go against convention. John should ask for a divorce and Geoff should quit teaching but obligation and expectations prevent them from doing so.

Q: There were moments when the manifestations on Robert’s body looked like tumours and others where they looked like scar tissue.  Was there a logic behind the look of the body shocks?

A: I wrote them as “cancerous masses” and “giant tumours”, simply meant to represent stretched out skin covering the “thing” under his skin. The actual look of the lumps were designed by our talented FX team the Butcher Shop. They did a great job and are a really talented and generous bunch of artists.

Q: Consumption¸ Worm, Familiar all have the feel of portmanteau cinema, which is a cinematic art form that’s almost been forgotten.  Would you consider this as a direction for your story telling?

A: In the sense of anthology or themed films I wouldn’t say so. I feel the common theme in these films is me, each represents a segment of my personality, obsessions, fears and so on. The dominant story telling bent that I’ve been able to identify within my self is the character study. I’m deeply interested in dense, complex characters and look forward to crafting them in unique ways. I enjoy creating a character that feels three dimensional, real and vibrant while also operating on metaphorical or allegorical levels. My characters are real but they each represent ideas, this is where I’m focused at the moment creatively.

Q: It’s interesting that you had both John and Charlotte are gestating their own “children” or sorts that would be horrifying to the other.  Was this mirroring intentional?  And if so what’s behind it?

A: In many ways Familiar is about abortion, the abortion of life in a literal and metaphorical sense. In order for life to continue life must end. In Charlotte you have growing the seeds of life, a very feminine set of desires and instincts, those of creation and stability. In John grows a “child” of extreme masculine origin and instinct, something primal and selfish and destructive, the seeds of death. These aren’t themes I explicitly express in the short but if you pick up the undercurrents, the subtext that’s great. The thing with writing, for me especially is after a while the ideas become so layered and intertwined its hard to pick out specifically what means what and why its there. It’s a very layered story with conscious and subconscious meanings but I do feel as though the dual births or rather dual abortions do speak to a greater theme of masculine and feminine destinies.

U.S Horror fans can catch Consumption and Worms on the American Horrors TV Channel.  The full review of Familiar is available [here] and will no doubt will soon be available.  For latest screening information for all three films plus updates on the feature length Worm click [here].

Special thanks to Zach Green (Producer) for all his help with the Interview and general correspondence.

Familiar (2011)

Worm (2010)

Consumption (2008)


Dawniepants said...

Great interview!


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