[Boston Underground Film Festival] FAMILY AFFAIR Review: A Night of Isolation

Brant Lewis calls A Family Affair a fascinating psychological horror story evoking 70s genre classics like The Shining.



Written, directed, and edited by Kyle Mangione-Smith, A Family Affair had its world premiere at the Boston Underground Film Festival as a part of the Dunwich Horrors local shorts block. The short film follows a family consisting of Henry (Toby Clearly), his mother Julia (Allura Duffy) and his dad George (Wes Cannon) isolated in a cabin visited by a mysterious woman only known as the Drifter (Mary Hronicek) who wants to find refuge from the horrible winter storm. Mangione-Smith takes heavy inspiration from 1970s psychological horror films. This is evident in the film’s aesthetic and cinematography decisions. Smith chose to utilize filmstock instead of digital for filming. The physical grain and texture instantly drew me into that decade of horror.


A Family Affair has a specific theme that lends to its atmosphere and tension. The winter storm provides a great backdrop, establishing a sense of unease. That unease and the scares helped to set it apart from similar films. The cabin's production design adds to the family's initial mundanity before the horror sets in providing a great contrast to the eerie psychological elements. These things made me instantly eager to discover what would happen next.


I really loved the premise of the film. Being trapped in a snowstorm is already terrifying and the addition of a mysterious stranger added to the terror. I can see how films like The Shining (1980) influenced Mangione-Smith in his emphasis on psychological and emotional terror. The religious paranoia of the Drifter encapsulates those notions as the family decides what to do. They are conflicted by their morality—they want her gone, but don’t want her to freeze to death in the storm. Henry, the family’s son, believes he has an imaginary friend that the Drifter believes is real.


The cinematography falters in some parts of the film. It can be very difficult to see people and objects at night. The shadows sometimes make the actors into unidentifiable dark blobs. detracts from the potential anxiety and fear of the scene.


Toby Clearly, who plays Henry, was the strongest performer out of the cast. His character acts as the film's centerpiece and he nails his performance. The other performances don’t stand out or feel unique. When the Drifter shows her pictures of Jonas, she immediately comes off as a crazy and hoaky stereotype. Overall, the cast does a fine job with some performances rising above the rest.


I had a fun time watching A Family Affair. I enjoyed the concept, setting and aesthetic. I understand what type of film Mangione-Smith was going for and believe he mostly succeeded. The narrative and ending are a bit predictable, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film.


 



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