Family Demons (2009)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Ursula Dabrowksy
Writers Ursula Dabrowksy
Starring Cassandra Kane, Kerry Reid, Alex Rafalowicz
Genre Psychological
Tagline They never let you go


"You got to get out of the house Billie. It's dangerous." - The Boyfriend

Billie is a teenager who has been kept pretty much housebound by her mother in a Bad Boy Bubby type scenario. The world outside is too dangerous and if Ma is having anything to do with it Girl is definitely not going to meet World. Which would be all to the good in a sort of dysfunctional fashion if Ma wasn't also a raging alcoholic with hate issues, who also disappears for days on end without furnishing anything like food. She does come home, but with bogan boyfriend in tow who takes way too much interest in Billie.

Naturally this sort of a home situation isn't going to resolve itself in a any sort of neat Ramsay St fashion, a group intervention session isn't going to help, with Billie being pushed once too often and taking a hammer to her drunken homicidal Mum. Then Billie's problems really start, Ma could see her own dead mother, and guess who's dropping in to visit Billie as history repeats. She may have killed her mother in order to gain her freedom, but is Ma ready to allow that freedom to happen?

Family Demons is one of those movies that takes out your pre-conceptions of what a dark genre film should be and replaces them with questioning about what you have just seen. The movie works off it's revenant concept forcibly but equally dials into psychological horror, just what is real and what is in Billie's mind, before delivering a just visible statement on domestic violence and how it's bloody hard to break that cycle, with subsequent generations suffering at the hands of the victims of the past. Dabrowksy also seems to be saying that you cannot escape the demons that infect your family, regardless of new horizons, or your own experiences. It's a nihilistic viewpoint that isn't going to have the bogan crowds flocking to the cinema, there is no cookie cutter Hollywood ending in Family Demons, it's a case study of mental degradation and the cycle of hate and self loathing. If we do not learn from the past etc.

Let's be clear up front, or midway through, whatever, shut up and stop interrupting, I wanted to like Family Demons, but Dabrowsky made it bloody hard to like her grunge filled voyage amongst the damned. I ended up not liking the movie at all, but bloody loving it. The Director/Writer sure has her finger on horror's pulse and hits the dark strains like a Virtuoso being given a full orchestra to play with. Family Demons is filled with recurrent motifs, a bathroom tap drips endlessly, a clock ticks away the time, and symbols that only become apparently important as the movie progresses. All about that armchair in the lounge. Sure we're not talking Brad Anderson style symbolic recurrence but we are not that fair off the reservation here.

Dabrowsky builds her movie skilfully and I was struck by the whole feeling of quiet desperation that pervaded the movie right through the first block. Billie is for ever sitting at a table with an empty plate and cutlery before her waiting on Ma to arrive home with food. This is just one of the mental tortures the naive teen has to suffer through as her life is gradually revealed to be a living hell. She is also routine subjected to violent attacks as Ma hits the bottle or returns home drunk, and mental torture as we learn a few home truths about Ma's life. It's that history repeating scenario folks. When Billie takes up the hammer in defence of her own life you are only too willing to cheer her on as Ma is painted as a Monster preying on her daughter. It's only later in the movie and during the devastating final scenes that you wonder who you should actually be feeling sorry for, there are no real antagonists here, besides Ma's boyfriend, everyone is a victim of the situation they find themselves in. As the Sex Pistols so aptly put it, "there is no future".

While the movie moves through the muddied waters of psychology, just how much weight are we expected to put on doors that close and lock themselves, or kitchen cupboards that open ever so slowly? - Dabrowsky sure knows a thing or two about what makes a horror movie tick. The atmosphere here is simply dripping off the screen and the tension in a number of scenes is really given the blast furnace treatment. Family Demons is one of those movies you run across at best once in a decade that has you wondering whether or not you really want to know what happens next or what might be shown on screen. For example, and hey spoilers and shite but what the heck, after burying Ma and cleaning up the carnage Billie decides to take a nice long hot bath, as you do after bludgeoning to death your loved ones, which gives Ma enough time to resurrect herself from a shallow grave. I was wondering immediately, did Ma not get enough whacks with the hammer or is this going down to the Evil Dead woods. Dabrowsky keeps that little answer up her sleeve for quite a while as every ounce of tension is rung out of the subsequent scenes. Dabrowsky returns the viewer to the first time they caught the Japanese smash hit Ring. We are in a similar situation of knowing the reveal is coming, but it's a long time happening as your pulse rate rises, like Ring the pay-off in Family Demons is worth waiting on, two thumbs up to the make-up department working on Family Demons.

Cassandra Kane (Billie) and Kerry Reid (Ma) carry the movie for almost all it's running time, with both Actresses deliver devastating performance. Reid in particular is simply mesmerising in her role, the venom drips from her mouth. I was stunned by both leads and you will find yourself shell shocked as Dabrowsky gets the best out of them. Naturally neither Actress won an IF Award, Downunder Oscars, because let's face facts here Family Demons is an Indie without Film Finance involvement, ergo the plastic fantastics of the Aussie mock Celeb house party aren't interested.

I am completely out of space here and haven't even begun to lift the lid on the layers of goodness going down in Ursula Dabrowksy excellent debut feature. It's all mind games, flashbacks, and a terrible feeling of inevitability. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, but moving along.

Michael Taylor has produced one of the great scores of Australian dark genre cinema, it's simply sensational. The mood is eerie, creepy, haunted house chill, and matches the visuals like a brought one. Dabrowsky intermingles Taylor's sound-scape with ambient noise to create that allusive feeling of dread, you will have icy fingers running down your spine.

Naturally there has to be the odd weak spot to a debut feature, and these are really minor quibbles folks, but in order to fully cover the movie they have to be voiced. The whole “true story” was stretching the friendship. Clearly the movie may have been based on a documented case of domestic violence and worse, but let's not let them DTs get too much of a voice. Billie's implied rape scene was a tad too sterile for mine, but I can understand what Dabrowsky was doing there. And finally Billie's reaction to the carnage seemed slightly too controlled for mine. But never having been in the position of traumatic overload Billie has suffered through I guess I am not qualified to make comment there.

When I sat down to watch Family Demons with a fellow Reviewer, I had first dibs on the movie review not sure if we do differing reviews of the same movie here, it was one of those free nights after a hard day's labour so we were in the mood for something cool. Strangely we had both confused the movie with another Aussie Indie, that one with the banshee in it, so were not expecting the psychological sledge hammer blows we received to the head as Ursula Dabrowksy weaved her magic and went buck naked wild on the mind pieces. We had planned on a re-watch of Craven's The People Under The Stairs to round out the evening, but were so enthralled by Family Demons, that we played it again Sam. Man one of the best haunted house yarns to come across my screen in quite sometime, with added psychological twists to have us arguing about what was real and what wasn't. I simply loved the movie and will be hitting another viewing this evening, it's not everyday you come across a dark genre flick that leaves you dazed and confused but wanting more. Full recommendation this is one of the best horror flicks to come out of this part of the world since the sensational Carmilla Hyde. If Dabrowsky can make this nightmare on a budget of $6,500, you have to wonder what she could do with more backing.

Family Demons is hitting DVD downunder sometime this year, as usual Aussie distribution of our own movies isn't the well functioning beast we all want, but I'm not sure when. I had a screener sent my way by the lovely Sue Brown, who also has a Producers credit on the movie. On the bright side of the hammer, Ursula Dabrowksy is hard at work on the second movie in her demons series, City Of Corpses (working title), I'm fracking there!

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  A stunning debut feature that will leave you chilled to the bone.