Frequent readers of anythinghorror.com know that I love horror shorts. Correction … I love well-made horror shorts. By ‘well-made’ I mean more than just a tight story and good acting. A well-made horror short has very little time to establish a tone and atmosphere and let’s fact it, all films, whether full length or short, needs to establish the right kind of atmosphere in order to suck in the viewer. Writer-director Richard Powell did it once before in his 2010 short film, WORM (my review here), but can Powell make lightening strike twice?
In FAMILIAR, which has a run time of 24 minutes, we see the daily routine of John Dodd. Let me stop right here and point something out. In Powell’s 2010 short, WORM, the main character was Geoffrey Dodd (both characters played by Robert Nolan). Coincidence? To find out I emailed executive producer Zach Green this question and he assured me that these are two separate shorts but that the main characters in both are brothers. Geoffrey and John seem to suffer from the same malaise: A negative, violent inner voice that seems to guide their very actions. Maybe this is a subtle way of Powell examining how mental illness runs in families, but there could be something else more sinister going on here. Whereas in WORM we follow Geoffrey in his daily routine at work, FAMILIAR follows John in his daily home life. We see his interactions with his wife Charlotte (Astrida Auza) and teenage daughter Jordan (Cathryn Hostick). He’s estranged from both and always keeps them at arms length, almost like he doesn’t want them to ‘know’ the real him.
Similar to his brother, Geoffrey, John’s outside appearance is meek and non-confrontational while his ‘inner’ life is ruled by violence, dominance, and an underlying evil that’ll chill you to the core. At first it seems John’s just going through a really bad mid-life crisis whereby he’s realizing his life hasn’t gone in the direction he wanted. He’s counting down the months until his daughter goes away to college so he himself can be ‘free’ of his domestic hell. Just when we get the feeling he’s happy (well as happy as he can be, anyway) about waiting to escape his domestic, suburban hell, his wife tells him she’s pregnant again. Well this just doesn’t work for him and he blames his wife for trying to further trap him and take away his freedom. John’s next course of actions is truly monstrous and will have you sitting there with your mouth hanging open.
But then something clicks inside of John. Is it his conscience? His morality? Whatever it is, his actions start to betray his thoughts. We start to realize that maybe John isn’t the monster we thought. Maybe there’s something more sinister at work here. To say anything more would be to ruin it for you. But even in it’s short 24 minute runtime, FAMILIAR takes a gory twist near the end that you won’t see coming.
The writing here is solid. There’s no padding, no superfluous dialogue or characters. The three members of the Dodd family are the only cast members and they all do a tremendous job. But the success of FAMILIAR rests squarely on the shoulders of actor Robert Nolan. He puts in another amazing performance. He has very little verbal lines; most of his talking is done through his inner thoughts (voice over). But we can see the dichotomy in his mental and physical lives perfectly through his body language and facial expressions. Nolan is a fantastic actor and I can’t imagine anyone else in this role. But supporting Nolan is some terrific editing (by Tom Mountain and Navin Ramaswaran) and some very well set-up shots (by Michael Jan Davidson). And orchestrating it all, of course, is Richard Powell. Powell has such command over the material that he knows exactly where he wants the story to go and how he’s gonna get there.
Short films, when done right, are such a hugh treat. When all the elements that go into making a film so successful all come together perfectly you get a short film like FAMILIAR. No word yet on distribution, but I’ll keep you all updated. This one is definitely worth your time!! For now you can follow them on their Facebook page, their website, and their blog.
Director: Richard Powell (& writer)
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls (all in the last 5 minutes)
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer