“There’s never a good time to leave.” This lyric from a song in Veronica Kedar’s Family reveals that despite depicting multiple murders, it is not a celebration of death. Instead, the film takes a frequently unflinching look at a severely dysfunctional family through the eyes of one of its members.
Lily (Kedar) is a photographer who is threatened with eviction for not being able to afford the rent at her art studio. After seeking help from her estranged, abusive father and being denied, something in her finally breaks apart completely. Family shows, in flashback form, how Lily’s fissures began, and alternates these vignettes with scenes from the present, after she has killed her family and tries to talk to her therapist about what she has done.
Although the film’s premise sounds like the description of a slasher flick, Family is no such thing. Some of the murders are committed for revenge, while others are committed out of mercy. Some are only murders by proxy. Just like Lily’s family, it’s complicated. While Hereditary showed the generational repercussions of a mother’s abuse, Family’s horrors are generated from Lily’s father, a man whose cruelty affects his wife and children like a virus.
The physical impact of violence is a visual motif throughout the film. It is first shown in one of Lily’s flashbacks when her father slaps her across the face as a child. But instead of showing an adult striking a little girl, Kedar cleverly edits the shot so that she is being struck in the face as an adult, and in slow motion. This technique is used throughout the film after each death, and clearly indicates that not only does this violence resonate throughout Lily’s life, but also that the murders she commits do not give her any pleasure.
What these murders do, however, is provide is a kind of freedom. In the beginning of the film, Lily tells her therapist’s daughter Talia that she didn’t start to live until she killed her father. As she puts it, “the cost of growth is always a small act of violence.” The violence in Family isn’t just depicted through murders. Lily destroys the photos in her studio after she gets a phone call from her landlord. Later, she hits her head on her father’s windshield after he’s rear ended by another car. She is bleeding, but her father neither notices nor cares, which is likely a metaphor for her entire life.
Family offers a lot of humor, albeit dark, which adds much needed levity to the litany of despair. There’s a great scene at the end between Lily and her young neighbor that would be laugh out loud funny were it not for the monstrosities that have come before. Characters perform songs within the film that act as a commentary on what’s happening on screen while also adding to the melancholy atmosphere. Despite these surreal touches, however, the film can be almost heavy-handed, particularly at 100 minutes in length. Some of the dialogue comes across as too on the nose, or makes the characters feel like symbols instead of actual people.
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Family is a gorgeous looking film with framing and editing that is often exquisite. It boasts a palette of rich earth tones and vivid dark colors that are beautiful but oppressive, much like the film itself. There are even several scenes reminiscent of Gerard Johnson’s grimy Tony (a fictionalized account of serial killer Dennis Nilsen) while others recall some of the ghastly moments from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Kedar, who also wrote and edited the film, does an amazing job of transporting the viewer into the horrors of Lily’s world. It’s a powerful and compelling place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Leslie Hatton (@popshifter) is a Fannibal, an animal lover, a music maven and a horror movie junkie. She created and managed Popshifter from 2007 – 2017, and also contributes to Biff Bam Pop, Diabolique Magazine, Everything Is Scary, Modern Horrors, Rue Morgue and more.