The battle between good and evil has always been a ripe subject for horror, but in this secular age in which being an atheist is somehow hip means that any movie attempting to pit good against evil in terms of Christianity should prepare for an onslaught of criticism of just that approach. So it is with 2009’s The Familiar, a movie that wears it Christian beliefs on its sleeve. Sadly, The Familiar is not a very good movie, but rather than nip at its heels like so many secularist-driven reviews have done, I will point out the key reasons why even Christians will not find much to enjoy in The Familiar.
The story centers on a former pastor turned gunsmith by the name of Sam (Bryan Massey). As a youth, Sam and his best friend, Charlie (Jeff West), in a moment of weakness attracted a demon by the name of Rallo. With the help of Sam’s father Nathan (Ben Hall), they managed to repel the wicked spirit, although they realized at the time that the thing would not stay away forever.
Now an adult, Sam has been through a lot. The most devastating thing in his life has been the recent loss of both his wife and daughter. This loss has led Sam toward alcohol and a strained relationship with God. Indeed, he is no longer a practicing pastor.
From out of the blue his wife’s sister, Laura (Laura Spencer), shows up at Sam’s house. Unknown to both of them, Rallo has also come to the house, and the spirit begins to seduce Laura. Once possessed, Laura sets her sights on destroying Sam. At first self-absorbed and bitter, Sam slowly succumbs to the wickedness around him, until he realizes he needs the help of his father and Charlie to at last repel the demon that is Rallo.
Written and directed by Miles Hanon, The Familiar was made on a shoestring budget, and it is this rather than the Christian-driven script that ultimately makes this movie a difficult one to enjoy. The script is much too talky, forcing the actors to be a bit repetitious and tedious. Making things harder is the lack of special effects, particularly during the movie’s climax, where the trio of men must do battle with a possessed Laura.
Another problem is the skewed acting. Although Laura Spencer does an effective job both as demure Laura and wicked Rallo-Laura, the other actors come off as wooden and amateurish. Lead Bryan Massey does an okay job, but he is no match for Spencer’s stronger performance.
Most mainstream viewers will likely be put off by the script’s pushiness when it comes to Christian beliefs. In my opinion, the underlying story is a powerful one, and it is unfortunate that writer/director Hanon did not take the time to polish his script, toning down the preaching and instead focusing on the nature of death, pain, and is strain between in the relationship between God (spirit) and humanity (flesh). It is during such times of overwhelming pain and befuddlement that it is possible for evil to flourish, say as a demon taking possession of someone close.
Christians may find the story has merit, but the lack of palpable tension between good and evil will make the movie’s underlying message ring a bit hollow. The movie’s closing sequence is very effective, but what has come before it is not.