“The Family” is a terrifying story of indoctrination and manipulation


Courtesy of Dan Slater (West & SOCIAL)

“The Family” premiered at Busan International Film Festival this year. The film is a psychological thriller directed by Dan Slater.

“The Family,” a new film from Chic Art directed by Dan Slater, is… a lot. The movie deals with themes of manipulation, religious oppression, misogyny and brainwashing. The writers, Dan Slater and Adam Booth, based a lot of the story on research about real cults and extreme isolationist religious communities, as well as a bit of their own upbringing. 

The story follows a family led by a zealous religious patriarch known as The Father. The majority of the story takes place on an off-the-grid farm somewhere in the middle of the woods, where the children of the family toil in labor and service to their god, Etan. Forbidden from leaving the border of animal bones which encircles their homestead, the children slowly begin to put together the pieces that their “parents” might be lying to them in order to maintain control of them. 

The film builds slowly, allowing the audience to discover the truths behind the situation as the main characters do. Little details reveal white  lies here and there as the stories told by the parents slowly begin to fall apart. The film makers trust the audience to infer a lot as the story goes on, allowing pieces of the puzzle to come together in a way that slowly grows more haunting and chilling as the manipulation and attempts at control begin to become more and more pronounced. 

Filmed during COVID-19, the movie makes excellent use of the constraints laid out by the pandemic. Filmed in a single location, the limitations of space help increase the feeling of isolation and oppression. Additionally, close-ups at the beginning give way to more wide shots as revelations occur for the children. Use of different lighting, including some scenes partially lit by candles, and a variety of camera shots help keep the few locations from becoming stale.

Unlike a lot of other horror movies, “The Family” doesn’t rely on jump scares or chase sequences in order to instill fear. Instead “The Family” instills a long dread of what will happen next, a terror of manipulation and an inability to escape. 

The film does contain depictions of physical abuse and sexual assault, and while they are mostly implied and not shown on screen, this could still be potentially triggering for some viewers. 

The acting is incredibly well done. Both  the characters of Mother (​​Toni Ellwand) and Father (​​Nigel Bennett) are terrifying, whose chilling self righteousness and willingness to do anything to maintain the rigid family structure create so much tension. Conversely, the children, particularly the characters of Caleb (Benjamin Charles Watson) and Abigail (Jenna Warren), give stand-out performances where the real-time revelations that there’s more to their world they thought there was.

“The Family” is a lot– gripping, terrifying, unnerving, disturbing and emotional. It comes to a spinning conclusion which, even after discussing with the filmmakers I am still trying to wrap my head around. It won’t be for everyone but for anyone interested in a horror movie which swaps the typical tropes for the terror of religious indoctrination and oppression, I would highly recommend it.  

Rating: 4 goats out of 5