The Familiar (2009) – By Josh Samford

The realm of Christian entertainment is an area that I am vaguely familiar with. Growing up in a Christian household, there were entertainment forces that I was introduced to through church or families who felt that all worldly influences were to be banished. Growing up in a household that embraced both the word as well as secular entertainment, I was never forced into anything. So my view on strictly-Christian entertainment has always been somewhat jaded. More often than not Christian artists sing songs of praise, and that is a great thing for Christians to have, that generally wasn’t something I was interested in listening to at all hours of the day. When you have the word as a guide, are reminders of god’s omnipotence and love necessary at all times? I often hoped that more Christians would instead focus on personal issues that could relate to others, so that worldly listeners would be more open to giving their music/film a better chance. It seems that perhaps writer/director Miles Hanon felt something similar. Although there is no question that The Familiar is a film made from a Christian standpoint, it retains an interest in developing an engaging story that others may find interesting. In setting the film in a horror-movie format, it can retain truthful to the bible while also showing intelligent cinematic delivery that may appeal to a secular audience as well. Like all films however, The Familiar does have its issues. The Familiar details the life of a man named Sam, who is left a grieving widow after his wife passes away. Formerly a preacher before her death, he has secluded inward and no longer feels the same passion for his religion. He spends his days drinking, shooting guns and generally trying to forget all that has come before. However he can not forget a chance encounter he had with a demon when he was but a child. Both he and a neighboring friend were attacked in his bedroom by a spirit that they could not see. Now, in modern times, his best friend is the local sherriff and is trying to help get Sam back on track. When his ex-sister in law Laura (Laura Spencer) shows up in town, Sam must deal with this reminder of his former wife. However, that spirit from childhood hasn’t been put to rest and with Sam at his weakest this may be the perfect opportunity to strike and garner his soul. Will Sam be able to stop this being, does he have the will power and just what intentions does his sister-in-law have hidden?

Although it is a surprisingly well made film, The Familiar certainly does have its negative aspects. Far from perfect as it may be it does manage to deliver an interesting story that covers issues that will speak to some on a personal level, the level of performances however can be hit and miss to the point of deriding the quality of the feature. A combination of shaky dialogue and strange delivery, The Familiar can at times be a chore, despite its interesting storyline and visual style.  The cast all had their moments, but unfortunately many fall prey to overacting and silly dramatics. Bryan Massey who plays Sam does well in conveying his inner turmoil, but he can also come across as apathetic to his situation and far too grim a person to be that likable. All of his dialogue seems to come through gritted teeth, which can be good or bad depending on the scene, but overall it makes for a hand full of awkward moments. Massey has an interesting presence to him that should suit him well in various other roles, but he seems fairly out of place here. Laura Spencery, who plays the character Laura, is very good in her role as the young temptress. A beautiful girl who is relatable with the audience, she manages to keep her performance on track. The only slip-ups come during the finale when her character becomes openly possessed and she is forced to take things way over the top. There simply seems to be too much intent with her performance. With this demon inside of her, she reacts with huge eyes and attempts to make "scary" faces in order to get to the audience. Unfortunately for most of us adults, the results may come across as a tad silly.

Performances aside, the only other issue I can think is the pacing. At a little over 100 minutes the feature feels longer than it probably should. This could be due to the limited sets and the intentions of setting intrigue. Overall, I don’t think its that great of a distraction. On the positive front though, The Familiar is stunning to look at. The cinematography is of a very high quality, with an excellent use of lighting throughout. Although shot on a minuscule budget, the filmmakers manage to make their movie look like a far more expensive project. There were moments where I was actually blown away with the quality of the visuals, particularly anything involving a closeup of the very photogenic Laura Spencer. Her light complexion and stunning red hair and lips make her a walking work of art within the context of the film. I think aside from the visuals, there are a lot of interesting things happening in the script for The Familiar as well. There are things I would change of course, but the character of Sam and his loss of faith creates a nice dramatic arch. Massey, as state, does do a good job in showing his inner turmoil during the first half of the film in particular. This character is tormented and the drama that comes along with that works very well.

Overall the movie has its ups and downs. For Christian horror fans, this may be worth a look for no other reason that it is interesting to see a dramatic work inside of the faith that can speak to multiple target audiences. For others, it could be interesting to see how a horror film can be made while speaking to a Christian audience. I won’t say its the best horror movie I’ve seen this year, but it has its moments.

If you’re interested, you can read more about the movie at the official website: http://www.familiarthemovie.com