FAMILIAR - Review by Killer Aphrodite

FAMILIAR - Review by Killer Aphrodite - "... Familiar is the best body-horror to have come out of Canada since Splice and sits comfortably in the tradition of the country that gave us Cronenberg."

"As a child, I learnt the phrase ‘less is more’ was usually a prelude to being ripped off. Short-changed. Pay full-dollar and only get 50 cents worth. Not in the case of Familiar. Coming in at just 23 minutes, it may be a horror short, but it gives you more in that time than a raft of tawdry full-length features ever deliver.
Familiar is the latest film from the team of producer Zach Green and writer/director Richard Powell. The pair have previous form in delivering impressive horror. Their short Worms having won high praise on the festival circuit. Punching way above its length and budget, Familiar is the best body-horror to have come out of Canada since Splice and sits comfortably in the tradition of the country that gave us Cronenberg.
The film tells the story of John, a man who feels trapped by the crushing orthodoxy and mundane nature of his life as a father and husband. He steps across a terrible dividing line when he begins to listen to a voice inside of him. It is a voice which knows all the buttons to press to push him from just an ill-tempered obsessive into someone in dangerous psychological freefall. We get a dark autopsy of a man’s disintegration and the brutal descent towards bloody madness, seeing the terror of psychosis manifesting in John’s actions, but also his body. The harsh and despotic voice not only invades his every thought, it takes visceral, visual shape in his flesh.
The more fantastical the plot, the more insane the concept being brought to life through smears of blood and bloating, bursting flesh, the more you need believable characters to anchor the story. Powell gives us a man so credibly suffocating in the conformity of suburbia you never think of him in such artificial terms as protagonist or lead. However, it is actor Robert Nolan’s performance that makes John not just feel authentic, but which gives Familiar a centre of plausibility around which its extraordinary and nauseating events can spiral towards their catastrophic conclusion.
Nolan is not only able to manifest one of the most mesmerizing man falling through the cracks of sanity performances you will come across in a recent horror, but also completely convinces in his delivery of his character’s starting point. This is essential in giving the movie its below the belt punch. John’s journey, from the worn-out suburbanite chaffing against the bonds of marriage and family duty to psychotic time-bomb has all the inevitability of a slow-motion car crash. However, the psychic impact that its blood-soaked ending causes in the viewer comes from completely believing he started out a regular guy.
One of the ways Familiar transcends its budget is through the stunning cinematography of Michael Jari Davisdon. He creates an atmosphere of hugely unsettling claustrophobia. It is there when showing us the dull suburbs and home John yearn to escape as much as it is in the scenes of actual conflict with his own body from which there can only be blood-soaked release. It is a magnificent achievement to see something on screen which feels flooded with the stifling darkness of an Edward Hopper painting.
Familiar will satisfy anyone with an appetite for blood and guts in their horror. The FX comes courtesy of Butcher Shop, who alchemises rubber and gunk into effects which are believably bloody and vile. None of what Butcher Shop puts on the screen ever looks cheap or less than repellent.
However, Green and Powell are not offering body-horror for the sake of trying to shock the furred-up palette. The effects disgust, repulse, but when they do it is underscoring and displaying the inner conflict. Every component in Familiar is tight, controlled and focussed. Everything propels you on a brutal journey through madness where the borders of reality have been well and truly crossed. Even the soundscape offers a sense of routine rusting, a man’s life breaking, a world falling apart.
Powerful, clever and visceral, Familiar may have enjoyed a low budget, but has really done more for less."
-- FAMILIAR - Revew by Killer Aphrodite