Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Familiar (2009)

Spirits love to torment priests and the innocent

This carries more of a specific Christian lesson and message for the reaffirming-your-faith type of supernatural drama/horror than giving in to more shocking theatrics for regular cinema goers as seen years ago in the '70s with the likes of "The Exorcist" with more effective results. This is the equivalent of their catering budget, so the actual filmmaking experience requires a share of compensating to get through it, not only for resources but also since they cut out a lot of the over-the-top scenarios or anything in the way of titillating to keep the messages more down-to-earth and positive when they arrive. It tries to play both sides of the fence and ends up not being able to share itself equally to where it would be entertaining and also carry something away for the watch.

Sam is a former small town pastor in Oklahoma that has nightmares from a supernatural incident that happened twenty five years ago. Sam and his childhood friend Charlie brought pentagram laced porno mags to their home with demonic results. Five years ago his wife Katherine died under unknown circumstances and he currently drinks away his sadness and sells and shoots guns. He hangs loose with Charlie, who's now the local jolly sheriff, and follows a simple routine until his now-grown-up sister-in-law Laura shows up at his front door step unannounced from wanting a change from city life. Laura is smug and overly confident to the point of stepping over her bounds. Sam turned his back on his faith along with those that want to help, including his friend, his father and his new house guest, though who's coming on strong to the point of literally filing in the cloths of her former sister that she had a falling out with.

Laura mentions her involvement with the Light Seekers: an alternative group that believes in spiritual presences. She's naive and thought one of the spirits was good until she says the name of Jesus and the presence reveals its true black colors with an omnipresent voice that shows its mocking scorn. Already in poor shape himself, Sam tries to help Laura who's beginning to stray but doesn't always have the insight or strength himself. Soon enough she starts to act differently and Sam being lonely gets blinded to the fact that she may be influenced by one of the bad spirits until he's in well over his head and has to make a life altering choice instead of turning his back and feeling sorry for himself. He turned to guns but found something he can't shoot.

"The Familiar" is a measly budget feature that dodges bigger special effects or grossly horrifying or shocking events but tries to instead establish its characters as regular people and have them go through self-destructive mistakes that the viewer might not have to. Yep, it's going to be a life lesson of sorts, which can be appreciated for an effort that carries meaning and relating points. Though what makes the experience a hard watch are the messages come on a little strong, despite a few that hold back or are balanced for the other side; which I'm sure this might still be slightly controversial in the head-stuck-in-the-book Christian community as a result, but nothing like "The Exorcist," for which author William Peter Blatty penned it from a Catholic perspective. At one point the film truly showed its budget when Sam commented to his father at how to stop the evil presence to then cueing "tension" filled music and their supposed "action" scene with boots just kicking over rocks that formed devilish signs. At least they know their limitations.

The message about partaking in premarital sex, looking at suggestive material and exposing your body on camera--no nudity here or actual events shown--are going to fall on deaf ears to a modern, sexually liberated person outside of a smaller town or religious setting already. Soon after giving in to impulses and temptations there are some appearances of random shadows or a creeping camera with red filters--none of which works towards making a viewer flinch, building tension or putting a fright into someone for the transgression. The impression is that a bad spirit is going to immediately show up next time you slip up (no pun intended), so you better watch out! The fear is in you! Compare this to actually showing the possible mistakes and effects and it might have partially gotten through I'd imagine more so. As is, it feels like a reconfirmation and pat on the back for those that abstain already.

The biggest issue here is it becomes a chore to watch as the pacing jumps back and forth and starts to retread over familiar ground. This moves along in a revolving circle that, instead of creating captivating drama or interesting scenarios, has tendency to drift along or jerk with some unsmooth transitions. Its sense of mystery doesn't always carry punch with how the wife actually died or who the elusive "cousin" Rallo is. This would have worked much better as a shorter feature as it feels padded and stretched out than being moment by moment engaging.

The dialogue feels obvious and the performances are stifled in areas as if they're playing catch up than always speaking their lines with command. When the dialogue isn't telling the viewer what to think or feel, the reverbed out piano montages with sad and extended violins typically cue up in case the tone or meaning was somehow missed. Bryan Massey, who plays Sam, doesn't carry his own with the various transitions of the story: little backing power with expressions, to then the next overstepping what was called for. How the character of Laura transforms from her normal self to possessed often comes with conflicting results. Instead of giving a gradual change over, it's not even made sure of which was ever which till a final blatant stand off scene where the spirit speaks through her and is more effective to capture the moment and your attention. But that might have been because whatever happened before it didn't stand out by much in comparison.

Rating: 3/10

Director: Miles Hanon
Stars: Bryan Massey, Laura Spencer, Jeff West
Link: IMDB

No comments:

Post a Comment