The family, the horror of religious fanaticism, space and time

Macabre 2022

Directed by Dan Slater, this Canadian film was screened at the 21st edition of Macabro, the international horror film festival in CDMX.

The Family, winner of the best international feature film at Macabro 2022 (Photo: Macabro)

The Family, winner of the best international feature film at Macabro 2022 (Photo: Macabro)

From the start, we see that something is wrong with a family of settlers who live in a cabin in the middle of the forest: the children are subjected to forced labor by their religious fanatic parents. The adult couple abuse them because of the alienation and fear imposed on them under the guise of conforming to the precepts of Ethan, a figure described in the Adventist Bible whom they ascribe to deity. Likewise, they instill the fear of Abaddon, the Supreme Destroyer of Demons or Exterminating Angel, so they are not allowed to cross certain territorial boundaries in their environment.

By the texture and atmosphere of the film, it gives the feeling of being at the front again witch (2015), by Robert Eggers. Due to the plot and the behavior of the paternal character (super performance by Nigel Bennet), the immediate connection with Claudio Brook in the castle of purity (1973), by Arthur Ripstein. Assigning these movie references is suddenly conducive to paying attention to the story that Dan Slater, director and co-writer with Adam Booth, wants to tell.

The premise of disturbing the viewer is established from the start: How to escape these trolls hidden in the bodies of a father and a mother? What needs to happen for this to happen? In the same way, the audience is captured by the fact that several unanswered questions arise, thus giving the sitter the opportunity to participate in the film through interpretations, inferences and doubts.

Why does a white couple have a black child? Where do they come from and why did they come to this forest? What kind of plague crosses the sky and causes panic? Although some questions will gradually find an answer, not all of them and not all of them explicitly, Slater will bring little twists to the story to keep his story on track. It relies on suspense and psychological horror to achieve this goal. Narrate slowly, that is, try long sequences and few cuts. The work of staging and acting is crucial to achieve a response of emotions that range from the anxiety of being there to the desire for the father to suffer the unwanted, especially because he commits heinous, unspeakable acts.

Between interior and exterior, he plays with tension. It’s scary to be out there between hard work, the threat of something terrible if you disobey the order not to go beyond the limit, and a sky you don’t trust. But it is more frightening to be inside the cabin under the protection of two authorities who monitor and control even breathing. Suffocation is the same with or without air. There seems to be no escape from this cabin, this forest.

During one of Slater’s twists with the appearance of another key character, the horror takes on another dimension. Not content with showing a despicable father in every way, he makes him more vile and pathetic with his actions. The spoken word is a monster in the ideal organism for its expansion, all the more so if it nestles itself into a perverse being that uses religious fanaticism to satisfy its own evil.

In fact, if you want to look at it that way, religion in bad people is a terrifying entity that comes to life to abuse the less fortunate to satisfy their darkest desires. Nothing closer to the reality of our time with different beliefs.

The ending of The Family gives the viewer another opportunity for interpretation. E.g, the idea that the space and time experienced in the film are as frightening as the parents. This includes the sky, which is so terrifying that it acts as another character to determine whether or not there is an escape, as well as contextualizing the nightmare.

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