“The world is different when people are asleep”
The beast within often proves too much when one’s happiness is compromised. For John Dodd (Robert Nolan), that joy exists in a life of freedom away from the constraints of the every day. Lost amidst the faces of those he can no longer stand—a wife who disgusts him (Astrida Auza‘s Charlotte) and a daughter who has finally reached college age so as to cease leeching off his generosity (Cathryn Hostick‘s Jordan)—the prospect of leaving it all behind for a future without the bars of his psychological prison becomes threatened when the sentence he just completed looks to begin all over again. The title Familiar proves how the life we’re taught to aspire towards may be heaven for some, but it’s an eternity of suffering to the rest.
Richard Powell‘s horror short starts as though it will remain a subtle tale of internal struggle as this forty-five year old father finds his pain taking over his actions. Outwardly counting the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until he can allow himself to escape into the endless possibilities of an unknown adventure alone and unencumbered, the vitriol feeding his interior aggression pulses and grows within. Quiet visually with a fierce voiceover portraying John’s baser instincts—his actions attempting to hide their fearlessness—the film soon transforms into a Cronenbergian hell of self-mutilation, anguished hope for survival, and the realization that fighting our destructive urges may only postpone the inevitable while resulting in a similarly tragic outcome.
Shot gorgeously by Michael Jari Davidson with some stunningly subtle camera zooms lingering on the uniquely eccentric face of Nolan, we’re able to see his imperfect irises as pupils spill over into their color. It’s a memorable focal point setting us up for the idea that John Dodd isn’t alone in his thoughts and that the voiceover we hear is in fact not his words. There is a creature living inside of him—whether physical or mental—that has never found the need to show itself as more than a controlling force within his head. But when John decides this force has gone too far, that his transgressions haven’t justified themselves when weighed beside their consequences, his blind acceptance turns into a feverish need to regain authority over body and soul.
Hostick becomes left by the wayside, serving as the pretty face reminding John of his struggle for survival the past eighteen years while Auza is made into the unwitting villain of the film’s first act. A kindly woman as self-absorbed in her own joy as her husband wishes to be in a few short months, the discovery of what’s got her smiling only angers the monster refusing to stay dormant behind Nolan’s blank stares of indifference. It’s here where Dodd spirals downward onto a path of no return, finding the power to not only cause harm, but also murder when it suits the plan this vile voice hatched aloud. But while the ability to prevent a life from entering this world proves easy, extinguishing one he’s laid beside for decades becomes the trigger to discover his actions are no longer his own.
Nolan renders his performance effectively as subtle eye and slight facial movements illustrate the subservient automaton and short-tempered enforcer coexisting. Masterful in the psychological thriller aspects composing Familiar, I’ll admit his broader expressions once the horror kicks in do border on cartoonish. The make-up and prosthetic work taking over starts a bit crudely overboard before hitting its stride as the internal struggle manifests into a grotesque monster possessed of dark desires and a complete disregard of apathy. Through what becomes a squeamishly graphic series of cuts, we discover the evil within can easily overpower our decency if we let the monotony of humanity’s idyllic construct of adulthood chip away at our resolve. We are all selfish creatures when stripped bare. Only the best of us are able to overcome.
courtesy of Fatal Pictures