Wednesday 20 May 2020

The Devil's Familiar (UK 2019: Dir Kieran Edwards)

Like his fellow Kidderminster area dweller, Tom Lee Rutter (who has a role in this film), Kieran Edwards is a West Midlands filmmaker whose love for his local vicinity, and its rich history of myths and mysteries, informs his movie.

The Devil's Familiar is also a found footage film that is clever enough to lever in bits of narrative sleight of hand so that it largely doesn't feel like one. Which is all to the good.

Opening in a police station, where footage has been recovered and is to be played to a group of coppers, as the tape rolls we meet our protagonists. Elliott Mooney (Uriel Davies) and Jake McIntryre (Edwards himself, who largely does the filming and thus hides from the camera - he equally lurks at the end of the credits, the bashful chap) are two final year students on a film and video production degree course. For their last project Elliott, who seems to be the one who calls the shots, decides to put together an investigative documentary covering a murder which took place back in 2006. The victim, Bob Nuegent, was found dead in his car, the victim of terrible wounds, commensurate with the claw marks of a wild beast. Passing dogwalker Edd Greuben found the body, but he also came across the very much alive but bloody figure of Sally Edwards, raving about the huge figure of a wild beast that had carried out the killing; a third person, Paul Webster, was missing from the scene. The tide of public opinion and the law favoured Sally as the killer, and despite protesting her innocence during the court case, she was found guilty, and ended up in a secure psychiatric unit.

Elliott and Jake set out to uncover the truth about the case in that there were some things that didn't add up. They first interview the journalist who covered the whole thing, Reeve Rider (Rutter), then expand their net to a series of experts, Sally herself (Sarah Page) whose marbles have clearly played their last game, and finally Paul's brother Rex (Ross Mooney) who had managed to photograph a dark shape which he believes is the beast that murdered his sibling. With the addition of an expert from the local game park, Logan DeEmmony (David Clarke) - and yes they did check whether any of the animals had escaped that evening - they venture into the location of the murder, Ribbesford Woods, to try and get to the truth.

Making great use of nearby locations - Ribbesford Woods (a real place), West Midland Safari Park (complete with shots of giraffes and other beasts for authenticity), and Kidderminster hospital and police station - Edwards' film benefits from being grounded in a believable world. His cast are good, but not great, which actually helps build authenticity. Elliott in particular descends from self assurance to a quivering mess by the end of the movie, and the supports are made up of West Midlands indie horror regulars.

The beast - and spoiler alert, there is one - is only fleetingly glimpsed, but only at the point where a real sense of atmosphere has been established; it's basically a riff on the 'Black Shuck' myth but a lot more deadly - warning; there are severed limbs in this film.

But the real joy of The Devil's Familiar is the 'onion skin' of the story layers being peeled back, full of unreliable narrators and contradictory accounts. At 56 minutes the movie packs it all in - including some great Kill List business - or maybe The Devil's Business business - and I loved all 56 of them. Well done everybody and I can't wait to see more from 'The Kidderminster House of Horror.'

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