The good folks at Fatal Pictures were kind enough to let us take a peek at their latest short horror film, the ultimately creepy Familiar, from writer/director Richard Powell. The film stars Robert Nolan as John Dodd, self-loathing patriarch of a family he can’t wait to see dismantle. His daughter is off to college soon, and John quietly thinks over the rest of his life in his mind. The use of voice over is often criticized as lazy filmmaking, and all too often it pops up in student projects. Here, however, Powell has crafted a story that requires it, and it’s the hinge that holds up the rest of the film. Without spoiling anything, it’s not really character narration, but the hint that it is at the beginning sets the tone for the rest of the film nicely, allowing the horror elements to slowly creep their way into the film.
I’m sure many people have compared this film to the works of Cronenberg, and rightly so. Fitted around the deep psychological trouble of the main characters, the film ultimately becomes a serious take on something that should (and in any other film, would) be completely ridiculous. However, the clever script reveals what it needs to for you to learn about John Dodd, and I must say the character is most effective because of the quiet menace portrayed by Robert Nolan. A lesser actor (and director) would have allowed this role to be a larger-than-life character, instead, the film turns inward on him, and his rage and aggression is rarely shared outside his mind.
However, there is a clever twist to why his mind manipulates him in such a way, making the narration the key turning point in the film. The best book adaptations are able to show what a narrator told throughout the course of the story, here the film uses the narration before showing you anything, resulting in a clever payoff for the source of narration. As the main character deconstructs, he attempts to bring his wife into his spiral of shame and self-loathing, mostly because he hates how content she seems with everything, meanwhile, he’s screaming inside with rage.
The film is a visceral tale of self-loathing and unhappiness, and like the best Cronenberg films, these demonic thoughts end up in physical manifestations of horror that will leave the audience squirming. It’s the opposite of a torture film, really, being that the main character’s driving force has become self-hatred, but the gore of a torture film is still present. Don’t let that fool you, all the gore is there to serve the story, as dark and punishing as it is, the gore just pulls you further into that spiral.
The special f/x are all practical, and there are some really complicated designs involving puppets and bladders, or at least they seem complicated within the framework of the story, but you never once think “that isn’t real!”. Mostly, you’ll turn away with “what the fuck is that!?” while turning back to see the explanation. Kudos to the people at The Butcher Shop for the amazing practical f/x that really give weight to what the character is doing to himself. I can’t wait to see their names on another film, I know there will be some inspired design and implementation. The entire film is incredibly well shot, with the cinematography of Michael Jari Davidson being one of the brightest spots of the entire production, which doesn’t happen all too often in lower budget films. However, it’s the intriguing story, relentless style, and the culmination of everything by director Richard Powell that really makes this film work. I see the Fatal Pictures crew has a few shorts under their belt, and if this film is any indication, they need to find the right person with the money to vault them into the feature arena, because they definitely have the skill to get what they need into a movie. Often, it’s just finding the right person that will also believe it. I’m looking forward to checking out their other shorts Worm and Consumption until they have a completed feature to unleash upon the world. And they better bring Robert Nolan with them, although I’m sure we’ll see more of him sooner rather than later, that face and the way he uses it can’t go unnoticed for much longer.