Sunday, 26 January 2014

Short Sharp Shocks: Familiar - Review

Something I generally love about the body horror sub-genre is that, by its very nature, it encourages film-makers to explore themes with some psychological depth.  That’s certainly true of Familiar, the remarkable 2012 short by writer/director Richard Powell.  Here we have a story about a dissatisfied, middle aged man who has come to hate his family, seeing them as the thing that has him trapped in a middle class existence he no longer wants to be a part of.  When this hatred manifests itself, first as a voice in his head, then ultimately as a physical, parasitical presence inside him the downward spiral begins, culminating in a scene of explicit, gut-wrenching mutilation which had this hardened veteran of gore gritting his teeth and squirming like a horror virgin.

For all that the movie builds up to a moment of exquisitely gruelling, beautifully staged carnage, Familiar is no less distressing in the lead up to this blood-soaked denouement, especially when a certain turn of events comes about and ruthless depths are plumbed to fix a ‘problem’.  The sense of creeping dread leading up to the realisation of the chosen solution coupled with the emotional devastation in its wake are powerfully brought to life by the actors.  Robert Nolan is simply brilliant in the role of mentally disintegrating spouse John and the un-showy, subtle performance of Astrida Auzaalso as his wife and unwitting victim Charlotte is just as remarkable.

But it isn't just the quality of the writing, acting and direction that impressed me about Familiar.  Special effects are a tricky thing to pull off effectively in low budget film-making, so kudos to the team that handled the exquisitely nasty pay-off at the end of this brilliant short.  The mixture of old school make-up and icky animatronics utilised here could have, as a result of inexperience and a shortage of funds, resulted in giggles instead of horror.  The end result is instead an astoundingly well realised, painfully protracted scene which, despite the fact that I’ve experienced it half a dozen times, remains a bit of an excruciating ordeal to watch.

Familiar is precisely the kind of showcase that makes a horror fan such as me sit up and take notice.  Director/writer Richard Powell understands horror.  He grasps that if you want to unsettle an audience your movie has to deliver something more than just visceral impact.  He's a real talent who with this disquieting mini-masterpiece brings to life a vicious slice of body horror where the more dramatic moments are hardly less disturbing than the more standard, but no less remarkable, genre elements.  When he eventually gets the opportunity to unleash a feature I fully expect it to be something special.  Let’s hope this happens soon.  The horror genre, more than ever, needs people with this kind of vision.

Steve's Score:


Fatal Pictures, the production company behind Familiar, was founded by producer Zach Green and director Richard Powell in 2007.

Fatal Pictures are also responsible for two other shorts; Consumption (2008) and Worm (2009).

Their fourth short, Heir, is currently in production and stars Robert Nolan and indie horror legend Bill Oberst Jr.  Heir has been heralded as their most disturbing foray into the horror genre yet and is intended as their last short film before embarking on their first feature.

The Heir Kickstarter can be found here.

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