THE FAMILY *** Canada 2021 Dir: Dan Slater. 110 mins
I recently was able to co-chair a panel discussion on the state of Horror. I asked what themes might come out of the current upheaval. Isolation as a base was brought up; of which I agreed that was not really new. Variations on the idea could be interesting if handled well. Dan Slater’s Canadian picture THE FAMILY (2021) uses the idea of a family locked in their own world with predictable results. However, the point is not the idea but how it is works on the screen. THE FAMILY (2021) works because of the solid actors and the production values.
The premise of the film is on an isolated farm in what appears to be the 1800s. A family is ruled by their father (Nigel Bennett) who preaches fire and brimstone. The devout mother (Toni Ellwand) demands obedience and often appears as the enforcer by carrying a rifle while watching the children work. Their father exploits their fear of a creator, and threats beyond the confines of the farm are marked by white stones on a path. The salvation is blind faith enforced by relentless discipline of the physical and spiritual. The picture opens with Elijah, (Onynx Sparks) the youngest, collapsing out of exhaustion. The child is punished for his petulance, banishing him to face certain death. Caleb, (Benjamin Charles Watson) the eldest, tries to defend him yet fails to defy his father. When the father brings a new person Mary (Keana Lyn) into the family to replace Elijah, Caleb begins to question his upbringing. Caleb is of that age and Mary was thought to be brought to be his bride. Caleb questions his father’s words when his father begins lusting after Mary. The story becomes one of breaking control.
THE FAMILY (2021) is a dark picture filled with images of filtered rain, dull colors, and unfinished wood. You can almost smell the dirt. The actors inhabit this world of control very well. The father, the mother, Caleb, Mary and the other children, Abigail (Jenna Warren) and Evelynn (Yasmin Mackay) are supposed to be one family. Caleb is black and none of them look remotely like each other. They are bound together by the relentless teaching and control of the father and mother. The parents think nothing of sacrificing one of their children to their deity – Elijah being banished, Abigail being almost drowned by her mother and Caleb chained to a barrel and left to moan from hunger.
The film is broken up into chapters that do connect somewhat with the theme of religious isolation. The detail in the set from the implements to the buildings, the makeup, and the wardrobe even the sparse music work. The cohesion of the actors together on screen is compelling. It is a film that works on many levels for today, bringing basic religious zealousness and almost the “Free man” movement that ignores the edicts of government control, including paying tax. The ending is somewhat predictable but well handled.
THE FAMILY (2021) is a touch long in spots and is a good example of the two genres that are emerging more now: folk Horror and the slow burn story. It does not have the same gore or blatant sexuality that JUG FACE (2013) has. The sexual moments were presented with taste and erotic compassion that befits the moment and the characters.
Review by Terry Sherwood