Family Demons (2009)

JULY 7, 2012


I recently asked an Australian filmmaker if America was getting a good portion of the Aussie horror films that were being made, or just the best of the lot. Because it seems that most of the ones I see are pretty great, and even the ones I’m not big on (like Wolf Creek) strike a chord with many of my peers – not a lot of “eh, whatever” forgettable stuff making our way, if it exists at all. He didn’t really understand my question, but I got my answer today with Family Demons, a decent enough indie that probably would have made a better short, but at least proves that there’s a DIY attitude over there as well.

The problem is, if you see the trailer, you pretty much see the entire movie. Our heroine is a girl with a home life that makes Carrie White’s look positively idyllic, because she was at least allowed out of the house. Billie, on the other hand, has to sneak out in order to buy some food (since her mom only comes home with booze), and when she is caught she is chained up in the laundry room. And if you’re wondering where the dad is, the one thing that the trailer DOESN'T tell you is that the mom was raped and Billie was the result, a story that she apparently tells her unwanted daughter with some regularity. Nothing like being constantly reminded that you’re the unwelcome product of a sexual assault (on an empty stomach to boot).

So, as anyone who has seen the trailer or read the plot synopsis on the back of the DVD knows, one day Billie has enough and fights back during one of the mother’s physical assaults, only to accidentally knock her head on the table. This is around (past?) the halfway mark of the movie and is pretty much the only major action in it; from then on it starts up its horror story as the mom (who is in the hospital) begins haunting Billie. Is it a ghost? A zombie? Was she possessed by a demon of some sort? I can’t answer that without spoiling the ending, but suffice to say the answer isn’t too surprising (it’s actually, oddly enough, identical to the plot of a short film I was in!).

Also, maybe this was made in a particularly ugly part of Australia, but what’s with all the rape? Billie is the product of rape, the mom brings home a boyfriend who later assaults her, some neighborhood guys try to rape her… the “everything comes full circle” nature of the plot sort of demands a reprise, but they lay it on a little thick, and again, it’s a movie of not much action, so it’s just kind of weird that nearly every “event” is rape-related. Maybe if the neighborhood guys were just out to rob her or something it wouldn’t be as off-putting – it borders on ridiculous that every man in this world seems to be a rapist.

The padding can also be a bit much. All of the usual suspects rear their ugly heads: snail-paced end credits, frequent flashbacks and flashforwards, etc. There are also scenes that seem to play out in real time, like when Billie runs from the would-be rapists and it starts to resemble one of those Family Circus strips where Billy (whoa) would wander through the entire neighborhood when all he had to do was cross the street. By the 5th time she turns down a new street and hides for a second only for one of the guys to catch up, the scene has already deflated most of its tension.

I say all this because I think this could have been a really great short film. Lead actress Cassandra Kane is terrific, and the concept is fine. I know of actual short films that cost more than this feature did, and thus I can’t help but wonder if it might have looked better (the digital video isn’t the best I’ve seen) had they pared it down to a short film length (20-25 minutes) and maybe had more funds for a stronger camera (or better post). There’s talent on both sides of the camera here, but it unfortunately gets overshadowed by the unnecessary length afforded to a two line story. However, it seems to be the first film from the writer/director, so I look forward to seeing what they do next now that they’ve gotten some experience.

What say you?


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