The Movie Waffler Shorts in Focus - <i>Familiar</i> | The Movie Waffler

Shorts in Focus - Familiar

A husband's mid-life ennui takes on gruesome physical form.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Richard Powell

As Familiar opens with deliberate pans through an anodyne suburban home, we hear the bitter voiceover of a man (John Dodd, played by Robert Nolan) who is sick of the ‘parasites’ that chew away at his existence, and craves the sleep that will buffer him from their stifling influence- ‘these are the hours I love, when all that I hate is silent and unconscious. I wish that they [the parasites] would sleep forever’. The subject of his animosity? His dumpy wife (Astrida Auza), his distant daughter (Cat Hostick) and his routine heavy, humdrum life, or ’45 years of existence’.
Dodd’s wretched drawl continues over the next scene: breakfast, where the family is all sullen faces and noisy chewing, and the film’s characteristically flat lighting robs the scene of any lingering family warmth. As narrated by Dodd, Familiar’s depiction of domestic life is relentlessly misanthropic. Star of Canadian indie cinema Robert Nolan plays the fatigued lead with his usual buttoned down intensity; there is much to initially enjoy in his deadpan fury at his lot and his evisceration of long term marriage’s tedium- ‘you’re on time every day? So are my bowel movements’. Familiar’s claustrophobia is palpable, the sense of confinement spreading to the viewer. Through held, unblinking close ups of Nolan, and his relentless voiceover, we get the sense of a man imprisoned in his situation, and, crucially, for what will transpire later, trapped within himself.
Any purported black comedy quickly dissipates with his wife dropping the unwelcome revelation that she is pregnant. We don’t have time to consider any potential plot holes (if Dodd is so repulsed by his wife, how did they manage to conceive?!), as we cringe at Dodd’s cold attempts to terminate the pregnancy. The dread of this development is compounded as the film grows into something even darker; the theme of abortion is carried through with a cruel wit, taking a sharp excursion into body horror where the double entendre of the film’s title becomes wickedly clear.
Richard Powell’s Familiar is a highly accomplished short. The studied angles and edits of the opening, contrasting with Nolan’s performance of a man defeated, create a vision of family life as bleak as it is resounding; Nolan really is great, and Astrid Auza’s kind eyed, modest performance commendably serves to contrast his tight malice. Nolan gets more and more bedraggled as Dodd’s bitterness consumes him; giving a nuanced performance which provides the beating black heart of this nasty little short. The effects (practical; beautifully, bloodily practical) towards the end are visceral and authentically revolting; while the final shot is cleverly ambiguous, questioning the proceedings of the entire film, and making us wonder who the bad guy really was all along.
Get familiar with Familiar as it screens in genre and short film festivals.