With striking visuals, grippingly intense performances, and a thrillingly unpredictable story, THE FAMILY is horror at its finest.
Family dynamics, religious oppression, and moral hypocrisy form the focus of Dan Slater’s uneasy and subtly gripping feature film THE FAMILY, which plays at GRIMMFest Easter this coming weekend.
Written by Adam Booth and Dan Slater, THE FAMILY follows a macabre religious cult that relies upon its members to pledge their allegiance to their god, Etan, through hard labour. However, when the children of the Family begin to suspect that the cruelty of their sadistic proxy parents has little to do with piousness, the question is whether they will sacrifice familiar cruelty for uncertain safety.
Rather than following mainstream Hollywood structure, THE FAMILY is characterised by consistent, restless tension that suddenly and unexpectedly peaks and subsides, maintaining a constant state of discomfort. There are both horrific climaxes and uncomfortable moments of stillness within each chapter. Yet, the film still manages to build towards something, raising the stakes each time, each chapter pushing the children – and the audience – further into discomfort until something has to give.
Director Dan Slater has brilliantly created a film that never allows its audience to feel at ease, which is exactly what horror should do. Far from being bored, we retreat into our seats from the unsettling scenes unfolding before us. Thrillingly, some of the most disturbing scenes seemingly involve nothing much at all happening, which is down to the masterfully sinister performances of Toni Ellwand and Nigel Bennet as Mother and Father.
Bennet and Ellwand are deeply unsettling, with Ellwand giving a particularly disquieting performance. She takes the character of Mother to terrifying extremes so that even in her quietest moments, you still feel firmly gripped by her unsettling control. She builds the tension in each scene masterfully and holds it until we feel the discomfort of our main characters.
Yet the film still has heart. We feel the bond between the siblings of the Family, particularly between Abigail (Jenna Warren) and Caleb (Benjamin Charles Watson), who are often used as tools to manipulate each other. Both Warren and Watson deliver a truly raw performance, and although watching their faith and very sense of self unravel is unpleasant to watch, this is a testament to the depth with which they explore their characters.
The only thing that lets THE FAMILY down is the limits to which it explores the microcosmic world that it creates. We don’t know where the children came from, what they know of the outside world, or the specifics of their devotion to and understanding of Etan. Though perhaps we aren’t intended to. Perhaps THE FAMILY is less about the origins of belief and more about the dismantling of it.
With striking visuals, grippingly intense performances, and a thrillingly unpredictable story, THE FAMILY is horror at its finest. By pushing the audience to their limits with tense, uncomfortable scenes and exploring the themes of Plato’s ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE, THE FAMILY delivers an impactful message about the difference between knowledge and belief.
THE FAMILY screens at GRIMMFest Easter on 16 April 2022.
Megan Hyland is a full-time domestic abuse charity worker; part-time entertainment reviewer; and professional over-achiever. Currently one of ten writers chosen for Northern Broadsides’ Young Writers Forge, you can read more of her review writing at UpstagedManchester, The Custard TV and her blog The Manchester Maverick.