Familiar (2012) – By Josh Samford

It wasn’t long ago that I covered Worm right here on Rogue Cinema. A dark little short film that featured a teacher going through his monotonous day, while also secretly harboring some serious resentment within his soul. During that short we are treated to this protagonist’s internal monologue, which proved to be extremely harsh. This short has proven to be one of my favorites from recent years and I have to admit that I was excited to see more from director Richard Powell. When I finally sat down with Familiar, it is fair to say that I was not disappointed. Picking up where Worm left off, Powell continues to improve his craft tremendously.

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?

When you first start Familiar, one thing should immediately stand out: the visual composition of the short. Right from the introduction, audiences should know very well that they are in capable hands. Powell crafts a sanitized world that is lit very bright and features very deep contrasts. Shot in a house that better resembles a hospital than a warm home, we are immediately inside of the mind of our leading man. His world is incredibly cold, and in a way it allows for us to understand his hidden darkness. Powell takes the picturesque ideal American household, and flips it upside down. This family that we follow sits together for their meals, but spatially they seem to be sitting miles apart from one another. They go through the mundane rituals that we expect from the family unit, but the audience never feels any warmth. Similar to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks, Powell illustrates the violence and danger that can lie underneath a facade of family values. All of this can be picked up simply by the visual framing of the film, and I think that says a lot about Powell’s abilities in telling a story.

The next thing that I imagine audiences will notice is the performance by Mr. Robert Nolan. This is the third project for Rogue Cinema that I have reviewed featuring Robert Nolan, and his work never ceases to amazing me. A talented actor who raises the class of any project he is a part of. His character within Familiar is actually a continuation of what he started in Worm. Even named after the lead character from that film, this protagonist that Nolan helps craft is a very bitter soul during the introduction of our short. However, Nolan throws enough charisma into this role that he actually manages to eventually win his audience over. Well, he wins them over as much as any guy who feeds his wife poison ever really could. Still, the audience is at least on-board with understanding this character. During the final act, when we finally start to understand the dark side of his character, he actually moves from being a nasty antagonist into being an misunderstood protagonist.

The movie definitely moves into the world of the bizarre during its third act. Although I do not want to spoil anything for potential viewers, we essentially find out that our leading man suffers from a very strange form of schizophrenia. We watch as our leading man begins to fight with himself over the dark and morbid things that he does, and ultimately the project starts to slowly veer into the world of science fiction. Although this may seem to be a pretty weird direction for this project, it somehow manages to feel organic. Not all audiences will agree with this push into the world of the strange, it certainly moves this short film into something that becomes completely unforgettable. You may enjoy Robert Nolan’s performance, you may enjoy the stylish direction, but you most assuredly will not forget the grotesque and unnerving final scene.

Richard Powell is a tremendously talented filmmaker, and someone that I hope will go on to do bigger and better things. With the talent that he possesses, I’m sure it will only be a matter of time. If you’re interested in reading more about this project, you can visit the official Fatal Pictures website at http//www.fatalpictures.com or the official Familiar Facebook page here.