Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Richard Powell's "FAMILIAR": The Monster Within
Written and Directed by Richard Powell
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If you could peek into the mind of a family man, what would you expect to find? Contentment? Pride? Unconditional love? Say you were granted the ability to do just that, to peel back the layers, to experience unfiltered thought exposed at the root. Would you be scared by what you might find? It's a scary proposition if you ponder the ramifications. Polite behavior experienced on the surface might be masking some truly wicked, ugly thoughts within people you encounter on a daily basis. Some of them might be your co-workers. Others might be your friends and family. What's really going on in their heads as they sit down to a family meal? What misanthropic tendencies lie hidden behind the small talk and forced smiles? On the flipside, what if it was your own thoughts being broadcast to your neighbors? What horrible, seething presence might others find lurking in you?
Following up their excellent short Worm (see Mike's review), the team of Richard Powell and Zach Green at Fatal Pictures deliver another potent psychological horror film with Familiar. In a way, they have given us this telepathic ability by allowing passage into their characters' fractured psyches. The two films are obviously meant to be viewed as companion pieces, each told from the point-of-view of average Joes who harbor hideous desires. The two shorts are very Freudian, exploring the darkness found in the hearts and minds of these seemingly ordinary men. Structured around their inner voices, Powell gives us access to every seedy, disturbing thought of their raging Ids.
As with Worm, Familiar effectively uses voice-over to open that door. Robert Nolan (also Worm's central character Geoffrey Dodd) once again displays incredible acting chops in his portrayal of John Dodd. John is in an ordinary family man living a mundane life. He's clearly bored, dissatisfied, and desperate in his conventional environment. His face barely disguises the utter contempt for his family. His wife, Charlotte (Astrida Auza), and daughter, Jordan (Cathryn Hostick), are relatively harmless and loving, but John's inner voice believes they are conspiring against him to trap him into a perceived miserable life. Still he carries on with feigned interest while staving off nervous ticks and twitches. He sees his life as a prison, his family the captors to be overcome. His inner monologues are venomous, almost to the point of hilarity. When he learns that his wife has become pregnant with a second child, Dodd's misathropic diatribes give way to a vicious act that is by no means funny. His behavior is so heinous, we suspect a true sociopath is lurking, and not simply a man experiencing a midlife crisis. Words have now become actions, and the Dodd family home has become a very scary place.
Very soon it becomes clear that Dodd might be harboring more than simply bad thoughts. As Dodd's anger grows, so, too, does the presence of his Id. What started as an internal monologue soon feels like a conversation. His accumulating rage obtains the physical form of bizarre tumors, the origins of which might be convincing Dodd to take drastic measures to ensure his true "freedom". It's here that Powell shifts from the trauma of psychological horror to the blunt potency of "body horror".
The title "Familiar" itself has a duel meaning. Here it can refer to the day-to-day environment of Dodd, a man who refuses to take responsibility of his own life. A Familiar can also be an animal, beast, or spirit that serves as a companion or guide, and one that frees Dodd completely of that responsibility. Is his "familiar" an Id-like monster, growing and pulsating with deep-seeded hatred? Or is it merely an excuse for Dodd to keep feeling sorry for himself. Perhaps it is a sentient being, tired of exhausting arguments with its host, and craving the freedom to create its own mischief free of the chains and baggage of its host's body?
Powell opts for a stunning simplicity to tell his story. Tightly composed shots show Dodd interacting with his family in all the normal ways. The rampant chaos is always found in his tumultuous thoughts up until the final moments. Again, I need to give props to Nolan who gives Dodd such gravity. With his worn, lined face and dark, baggy eyes, he has all the physical presence of someone about to crack. The duality of that is that he can also portray a father and husband who still maintains the ability to ask his wife "what's wrong" when she's down, even though he couldn't care less about her reply.
Whereas in Worm, the overall effect was provided almost exclusively in the internalization of the horror, Familiar takes things into a visceral arena in the climax. Unlike Worm, where the main character is consumed by his rage, Powell has given us something slightly more hopeful as Dodd finally attempts to take back his life. The manner in which he does so is a surprise, so I'll skip those details. I will inform you, however, that it veers into bloody Cronenbergian territory in the final minutes. Familar is one of the most satisfying short films I've had the pleasure of seeing. It's concise, brutal, and tackles some twisted subject material in a way that wriggles and thrashes with frightening life.
FAMILIAR Teaser Trailer