review by AARON ALLEN
Written and Directed by Richard Powell
Starring Robert Nolan, Astrida Auza, Cathryn Hostick
Horror -- the best horror -- does not turn our gaze outwards to the things that threaten us in the beyond but rather turns our gaze inwards to confront the inner evils that are all too familiar.
And this is exactly what writer/director Richard Powell and producer Zach Green do in their latest short Familiar, which screens Saturday, December 1st at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival. Familiar delivers a tightly-wound exploration of one man's confrontation with his own sinister and paranoid self-narrative that culminates in a gory, physical catharsis that would make Cronenberg proud.
Told through a dark, brooding voice-over and a slowly creeping camera, Familiar introduces us to John Todd, your average family man whose meek silence masks dark, dark thoughts. As John, actor Robert Nolan steals the show in his role as a deeply disturbed husband and father with a potent thousand-mile stare. To say he hates his life is an understatement. Viewing his wife and and daughter as parasitic jailers who have purposely trapped him in a domestic dungeon and crushed his spirit like a dominatrix crushes a testicle, John muses and stews in silence, letting his ego-maniacal paranoia and deluded sense of victimization grow darker, more misogynistic, and even murderous.
From the first frame and first line of dialogue, Familiar is emotionally arresting and psychologically penetrating. With disturbing precision, it taps into a dark stream of consciousness that I know flows through many a man's subconscious dialogue, even if we don't like to admit it. By bringing to the surface the seedy voice of a suffocating, domesticated, and selfish masculinity, Familiar - I think - will resonate with male viewers, even if we don't want to acknowledge it.
Familiar's gory climax, however, is a significant misstep. Familiar transitions from an engaging psychologically-driven and performance-heavy snippet of horror to a shocking sequence driven by blood and rubber special effects. Despite being created in part by Hamilton's own Carlos Henriques, the effects never manage to compliment the depth and profundity of the music, cinematography, and performances elsewhere in the short. Normally, I'm the kind of guy who can't wait to see the body horror and special effects makeup take to the limelight, but I was so engaged with Familiar that the short's body horror turn actually took me out of the story.
Check out Familiar on the festival circuit if you love dark, psychological dramas with a pulsating helping of body horror and practical special effects. Not for the squeamish, Familiar from Fatal Pictures manages to revolt physically as well as emotionally, and that makes it a true example of real Canadian horror.