[Grimmfest Easter] THE FAMILY Review - A Brooding Folk Horror Tale Where Fear is Familial
Sarah Stubbs calls The Family a film that doesn’t bring anything new to the Folk Horror pantheon, but one worth watching.
Folk horror seems to have a lot of similar themes: isolation, religious fervor, and family dynamics that are challenging at best. Dan Slater’s The Family is no exception. While I wouldn’t say that this film does anything groundbreaking for the sub-genre, it is a worthy addition to the pantheon of folk horror films.
The film's focus is, "A young family, living in isolation, forced into hard labor out of fear of dishonoring their Father and Mother who fight to free themselves from a religious cult."
The film exudes the thematic tones of Robert Eggers and M. Night Shyamalan, especially the latter which makes it slightly predictable, but that is easily overlooked. Folk stories like this aren’t new. The Family seems equally influenced by films like The Witch (2015), The Village (2004), and Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin (2021), without the found footage aspects. The story excels in making the audience feel uncomfortable. The poisonous and oppressive family dynamics are intentionally off-putting and alerted me immediately to the fact that something was amiss. I wish the film explained why and how the family was out there given the ending’s revelation.
The Family is beautifully shot. I experienced the isolation that the characters were feeling on their homestead. The family believes they aren’t allowed to leave the property, creating an almost claustrophobic viewing experience. The film's sense of unease is also aided by Dillon Baldassero's sinister and unearthly score.
Aside from the cinematography, what stood out to me was the ensemble cast and their convincing performances. Nigel Bennett, who plays the religious zealot Father, is fantastic in his domineering role as the family’s patriarch, while Toni Ellwand’s portrayal of Mother is even more unsettling than Kate Dickie’s contemptuous performance as Katherine in The Witch. The biggest surprise for me was Jenna Warren’s portrayal of Abigail. I found her to be unlikeable early on but by the end, she grew to be my favorite character. Benjamin Charles Watson’s Caleb was the biggest disappointment, not due to his performance, but rather because earlier in the film, his character is central to the narrative who is quickly left by the wayside. I would have liked to see a better arc for his character and not the ending that he received.
The Family won’t be for everyone. It is a slow burn that I'd neither define as having an epic payoff or much rewatchability. However, fans of other thrillers in the same vein as The Lighthouse (2019) will enjoy it despite its somewhat derivative nature. It’s unique enough to keep audiences engaged with its cinematography and performances.