As Familiars begins Sarah (Jasmine Hodgson) is wandering peacefully through a field humming Scarborough Fair when something frightens her. She runs but a black figure looms up in front of her and her necklace falls to the ground. Next thing we see is the police investigating her murder, one in a string of similar killings. As he looks over at the corpse Sutton (Michael Munn), the detective in charge, sees a hooded figure who exhales a swarm of flies. A figure that looks like him.
Emma (Jasmine Hodgson) already suffered from anxiety, but the death of her twin sister has only made it worse. A year after the murder she turns to a medium (Holly Nicoll) to find out who killed her. Almost immediately after she begins to see Sarah’s ghost. And much more hostile figures.
Writer/director Michael Munn (Fight the Eternal Evil, Demons) lays on the supernatural elements right from the start of Familiars. The strange burns on Sarah’s body, the hooded figure, another glimpse of some sort of creature. Multiple people see them, there’s no attempt at passing it off as all being in Emma’s head.
Unfortunately, a major problem turns up right from the start as well. Apart from evil spirits, Familiars is haunted by horrible green screen work, at times in the most unexpected places. For instance, when the police are investigating the murder scene, most of them are obviously on location. But the policewoman interviewing the woman who found the body was obviously shot in front of a screen. The same with a long car drive set to a morbid pop song about dying. It looks like a very early music video. And the less said about the CGI flames in her visions the better.
I understand Familiars is a very low budget film, and if you need hellfire you make do with what you can afford. But why put in a poorly composited driving scene that serves no purpose? Did Munn actually think it looked good?
After a long diversion about Emma and her boyfriend Sam (Michael Howard, Bridge) going away for a sex and booze filled weekend Familiars gets back to business of trying to be scary. Things pop up out of nowhere, hands reach out of the darkness, eyes appear under Emma’s bed. One of her friends leaves after seeing a demon in Emma’s bathroom.
Unfortunately we have no idea why any of this is happening and the effect is like walking through a fairground haunted house. Something pops out of the darkness and makes you jump then you go on unaffected until the next fake looking creature pops out. In some ways Familiars is the opposite of so many other recent British ghost stories such as The Jonestown Haunting or The Haunting of Alcatraz where there’s plenty of plot but we don’t see anything. Here we see plenty but we have no idea what or why.
Eventually Sutton realizes Sarah’s death is the latest in a string that goes back a hundred and sixty years, making a serial killer an unlikely explanation. And after another music video driving sequence, this one featuring Sam, we get an explanation and the film’s big showdown.
I give Munn credit for trying to make an effects filled supernatural film and not taking the cheap, all talk, way out. But the lack of a cohesive, or even coherent, plot and effects that are frequently closer to laughable than frightening ruin any chance Familiars had of succeeding. It’s too bad because the design of the demons was on point, including one that looked like the title creature from The Slayer.
Familiars is available on Digital platforms, you can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.