The Family - Grimmfest Easter Review 2022
Director: Dan Slater
Starring: Nigel Bennett, Toni Ellwand, Jenna Warren, Benjamin Charles Watson, Keana Lyn
Written by: Adam Booth, Dan Slater
Produced by: Christian de la Rosa, Dan Slater, Adam Booth
Cinematography by: Adam Madezyk
Original Score by: Dillon Baldassero
A young family, living in isolation and forced into hard labor out of fear of dishonoring their Father and Mother, fight to free themselves from their religious cult.
Dan Slater's visually striking tale of morality and religious oppression isn't entirely original but there's enough tension intertwined with some shocks that might make 'The Family' stick out from the rest of the puritanical horror we've been blessed with before.
Set on an isolated farmland, 'The Family' follows a young man named Caleb and his "siblings" who work their fingers to the bone for their cruel and devoutly religious "parents" through fear for their own lives. The paternal and maternal leaders rule with an iron fist, radiating their doctrinal beliefs and demanding allegiance from the children or face the ultimate consequences. It's as puritanical a way of life as can be and clearly the children are extremely unhappy. After the arrival of a new child, Caleb and Abigail begins to question their teachings and this leads to some remarkable discoveries.
'The Family' is well written and the cast are all very good. Benjamin Charles Watson and Jenna Warren have good screen chemistry and it shines through during their conversations about what might really be going on here. And there IS something else going on here. This is a religious cult and the "parents" are simply using the children as slaves for their own benefit.
The farmland is surrounded by a threshold that is forbidden to cross. It's marked by a litter of animal bones and we step into the lives of this "family" just as Caleb has accidentally crossed the threshold, much to the crushing displeasure of the father. The father threatens Caleb but spares his life, however not before partaking in some cruel intimidation. The father is a deeply callous man who actually seems to enjoy the twisted bullying and feeds off the fear of the children. The mother is no better and spits out words with sinister intent.
Much of the horror in 'The Family' isn't just through the intimidation by the leaders but the clear absence of knowledge given to the children. A quote at the beginning of the film from Plato's 'Allegory of the Cave' might help to give some explanation to the reasoning behind the leaders teachings. The film certainly borrows some stuff from Robert Egger's phenomenal 2015 folk-horror 'The Witch' but it's actually a little closer to M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Village'. It's especially frightening considering how much of today's social media led society blindly follows incompetent and unworthy leaders. It also made me think a little about the TV show 'Lost' when the shed on the edge of the forbidden threshold is seen.
The film is really helped by Dillon Baldassero's profoundly eerie score. It accentuates the gripping, atmospheric pull of the film especially during the more intense scenes and really ties it all together. There's some beautiful string work towards the end that resonates a certain hope in the wake of dark times. In fact the entire sound of the picture is spot on and along with the authentic set pieces, it's one of the better measurables about the film. I found Toni Ellwand and Nigel Bennett to be a little over the top as the "parents" but I guess that was the intention. During some scenes they come across as pantomime villains but for the most part they are believable as evil dictators.
A gripping and at times thought provoking inclusion in the puritanical religious horror sub genre that doesn't quite stand up beside some of the other films mentioned above but is certainly worthy of your time.
- Gavin Logan
'The Family' will have its European Premiere at Grimmfest Easter on April 16th.