Mar 13, 2012

Familiar (2012)
Director: Richard Powell
Writers: Richard Powell
Starring: Robert Nolan, Astrida Auza and Cathryn Hostick

The Plot: John Dodd (Robert Nolan) is a very ordinary man with seemingly ordinary problems. He has a wife, a teenage daughter, a nice house, and a solid job. What more could he ask for? Well, apparently a whole lot, including some psychological help. John hates his life, and he can hardly tolerate another day where he has to listen to his wife complain about her busy schedule. The last straw seems to come when his wife tells him that they are expecting another child, and this pushes John into a new realm of internal anger. A selfish man on the inside, John complains and rages within his mind but says nothing to the outside world. Slowly, this anger seems to be taking control of his mind and manifesting itself in very dark ways. When he decides that he will do something about the pregnancy, he truly becomes monstrous. John orders a particular type of poison off of the internet, which John then begins feeding his wife during her meals. This drug is not fatal in low dosages, but ultimately causes his wife to have a miscarriage. However, is this the furthest John will take these demented thoughts? Or will his inner-monster push him to go in even more sordid directions?

The Review
For those who don’t keep up with my work over at RogueCinema, I covered the short film Worm not terribly long ago. A very disturbed little short that featured a teacher going through his monotonous day, while also secretly harboring some serious resentment. During the short we are treated to his internal monologue, which proved to be incredibly hostile. This little short has proven to be one of my favorites from recent years, and I have to admit that I was excited to check out director Richard Powell’s followup. After some technical hiccups that delayed my viewing the film, I was not disappointed to find a very solid piece of work that improves upon everything that Worm had already done right.

The first thing that I imagine audiences will notice about Familiar is the brilliant visual composition of the short. Right from the very first moment, audiences know that they are in trustworthy hands. Writer and director Richard Powell crafts a very sanitized reality, and the lighting remains very bright and contrasted throughout his short. This gives the viewer a very “cold” feel that seems perfectly fitting for the mental landscape that the character of John introduces us to. Although it goes without saying, Powell does not introduce us to the picturesque American family with this short. On the outside looking in, a person might get that impression. The family sits together at meals, although spatially they seem to be sitting miles apart, and they go through the mundane rituals that we expect from the family unit. Similar in concept to what David Lynch’s early films explored, Powell illustrates the violence and danger that can lie underneath a facade of gentle family values. Although the voiceover narrative is integral in establishing all of this, within the visual medium the filmmaker helps give supporting evidence to back up these claims. After audiences have absorbed the impressive and steady visual flow of the picture, the very next thing I imagine they will notice is the performance of Robert Nolan.

This is, I am fairly certain, the third project that I have seen starring Robert Nolan. His character in Familiar is ultimately a continuation of the man he played in Worm. In fact, I believe Richard Powell may even be keen to refer to John Dodd from Familiar as a twin of Geoffrey Dodd from Worm. Each character was played by Robert Nolan, and each character speaks via a disturbed voiceover narration during each respective film. However, each movie is drastically different in the way that they tackle their subject matter. Going back to Nolan, he is one of those actors that once you’ve seen him do his thing, you can’t help but be surprised that this guy isn’t on a different level of success yet. Although the majority of his lines in this movie are told via voiceover, the anger and rage on his face tells everything that needs to be said. Throughout the short, he shows a certain level of bitterness that leaves the audience feeling uncomfortable. The bite that he gives to the dialogue produces a gut reaction that can not be denied. The loathing that can be read on his face relays the ruthless monster that lies beneath the surface, but as the movie continues we see the inner battle that is actually being waged. Nolan has a few rough edges as an actor, but he is a fountain of talent and it seems as if Powell knows how to get the very best from him. The results that they have produced thus far have been overwhelming, and I hope that these two continue to work together in the future.

The movie takes a strange twist into the bizarre once we discover that our leading man suffers from a very peculiar form of schizophrenia. He is never actually diagnosed with this, of course, but he most assuredly is shown to have a few bats loose in his bell tower. Although I do not want to spoil much, a secondary character within John’s mind develops and it begins to argue with him. This character has a supernatural edge that pushes the movie into genre-film territory, but it does so in a fairly organic manner. The progression tends to be fluid, and the audience doesn’t feel as if they have had the rug swept out from underneath them. Although John at first seems to be a wholly willing participant to the depravity within his mind, he ultimately defies his mental master. This leads to a final half that has to be seen to be believed. Incredibly disgusting and filled with grotesque imagery, Familiar moves from fascinating into shocking territory without ever losing a step.

The Conclusion
Richard Powell is a solid filmmaker, there is no getting past it. I have seen three of his shorts at this point (Consumption, Worm and now this), and I have not been disappointed yet. If you’re interested in reading more about this filmmaker or any of his projects, you can visit the Fatal Pictures official website or check out the Familiar facebook page. I give it a good four out of five! As far as independent short films go, not many are this intriguing.