Familiar (Short, 2012)
Directed by Richard Powell
From writer/director Richard Powell comes Familiar, one of the smartest, creepiest and most unrelenting short films I've had the pleasure of watching as of late. With a running time that clocks in around 24 minutes, Powell evokes more dread and uneasiness in his latest short film than most recent big budget thrillers with five times the running time manage to do.
It's not easy to surprise me as a genre fan, but kudos to Powell and Familiar star Robert Nolan for providing a stellar gut-punch story here that starts off a bit Falling Down-ish and then takes a very awesome left turn into some Basket Case meets Videodrome territory.
In Familiar we meet downtrodden 40-something John Dodd (Nolan), who begrudgingly goes through life stuck in a loveless marriage but sees a beacon of hope in the near distance: His teenage daughter will be leaving for college in a few months, and that's when John figures he'll be able to start the next phase of his life. Already a broken man with a fragile psyche (we find this out through Nolan's narration which guides Familiar's story from beginning to end), the unthinkable happens: John's wife finds out she is pregnant again, and soon the dark thoughts lurking deep within John begin to manifest in rather sinister ways, forcing him to deal with the anger that's literally eating him alive.
What I enjoyed most about Familiar is that it's a short film with a third act you never see coming. We mundanely begin with watching Dodd as he slinks through life- getting ready for work, eating dinner silently with his family, feigning the least amount of interest he can muster toward his wife, and what makes Familiar so powerful is that as you're watching this, John's life isn't all that different than any of ours, and I think that's what digs in first- the thought that you know exactly how this guy feels and can almost sympathize as his actions begin to darkly spiral out of control because really, you shouldn't want John to kill his wife, but there's a part of you as the viewer that's ready to give him a pass when he considers it.
So just when you think you know exactly where John's story is going to play out in Familiar, Powell flips everything on its side and delivers a third act that would no doubt have David Cronenberg and Frank Henenlotter high-fiving each other in a theater if this were playing on a big screen (and to say anything beyond that would be a disservice to Powell's story).
As a storyteller, Powell has done damn fine work here as it's not an easy feat to give viewers 24 minutes of a voiceover and not have it become tedious. But in Familiar the VO works- partially due to Powell's script and partially due to the stellar performance by leading man Nolan, whose passive and restrained performance is downright perfection and evokes an uneasy atmosphere from frame one that never waivers. I'd love to see more from both Powell and Nolan in the future.
With Familiar being recently completed, we expect the short film to be making the festival rounds soon so make sure you check out this bizarrely wicked short for yourself if it makes its way into your town in the coming months. Harrowing and deeply personal, Familiar is essentially a dark and disturbing journey through a struggling spouse's yearning for freedom that climaxes in a fantastically gooey and gory fashion that will leave the gorehounds clapping in glee by the time the credits begin to roll.
4 out of 5