Wow. I’m actually speechless after watching the short film, HEIR. This is the third short in the “Box Cutter Trilogy.” The trilogy, which is written and directed by Richard Powell, begins with WORM in 2010 and continues with FAMILIAR in 2012. WORM examines the seemingly meek and mild-mannered life of Geoffrey Dodd (Robert Nolan), a high school teacher. It’s not long before we learn that Dodd has a rather dark side. As the school day goes on we see that Dodd’s “dark side” is an understatement and the man is a monster–a ticking time bomb, that could “go off” at any moment. Nolan is stunning in the lead and conveys so many emotions and mental states with just an expression. In FAMILIAR, actor Nolan is back, this time as John Dodd (who is the brother of Geoffrey from WORM), and his mental state is no better. John seems to suffer from the same malaise as his brother; a negative, violent inner voice that seems to guide them in their daily behavior. But unlike in WORM where Geoffrey is himself a monster of a man, in FAMILIAR there seems to be something more sinister going on. What if the voice inside John’s head isn’t John’s subconscious? The first two films in this trilogy examine, among other things, the nature of mental illness. John and Geoffrey are brothers and seem to suffer from the same kind of dark thoughts. Their outer lives are that of calm and meek men, but their inner lives are chaotic and full of horrible, violent thoughts. WORM is dark, but Powell gets even darker in FAMILIAR. With HEIR, Powell enters into some very disturbing territory that will make many viewers feel uneasy … and I loved every second of this fourteen minute short!!
In HEIR, Powell concludes the trilogy on a very dark and somber note. This review is spoiler-free and I won’t be giving anything away that’s vital to the plot. The best way to summarize the story in HEIR is by posing a question that writer-director Powell himself asks:
“They say that anyone who abuses a child is a monster, well what if they really were monsters?”
If you keep this quote in mind while watching HEIR, you’ll understand the full force of what Powell sets out to accomplish. Gordon, once again played by the brilliant actor Robert Nolan, brings his young son, Paul (Mateo D’Avino), along with him to meet Denis (the always fantastic Bill Oberst Jr.). This isn’t a simple meeting of two old friends who are catching up over a cup of coffee. Denis and Gordon have a similar interest: they both enjoy sexually abusing children. From Gordon’s behavior it seems this is something new for him and he hasn’t yet acted on his monstrous urges. Denis, on the other hand, is a seasoned pro. Gordon is at a crossroads and the choices he makes in the immediate future will forever change he and his son’s lives. But there’s so much more going on here!! I know I’m being vague, but the story in HEIR is one of the best written films, short or feature length, that I’ve seen in a long time. Not since 2008’s MARTYRS has a film both sickened me and crawled so deep under my skin, yet at the same time I can’t stop thinking about it. I watched HEIR for the first time two weeks ago and have since then watched it several more times. Just like with MARTYRS, I get something more out of HEIR every time I view it. This is a brilliantly written film that asks if the monster makes you perform horrible acts or if the horrible acts you perform turn you into a monster. Powell also plays around with some very Cronenbergian ideas in HEIR. As Powell writes:
“HEIR suggests that victimization through sexual abuse leads to mutation of the psyche, soul and in our film, flesh itself.”
In case you wondering, the “monster” that I’ve referred to here is not just a metaphor. The monster is real, and we get some of the best special f/x I’ve seen since Andy Stewart’s body-horror trilogy. The camera in HEIR is unflinching as we get some truly grotesque imagery. Once you see this short you’ll understand why I referred to it as Cronenbergian. The f/x are grotesque, phallic and sexual in nature, and are completely engrossing. As much as I wanted to turn away from the horrors I was watching, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The f/x are beautifully executed and you’ll find yourself re-watching them over and over again. There’s not a weak element in this film. The acting is some of the best I’ve seen, the writing is compelling and dark, and Powell really explores some deeply disturbing material here and doesn’t hold back at all. The subject matter never becomes exploitive and always remains at the center of the plot. Powell isn’t utilizing taboo subject matter just to controversial. The subject matter, as disturbing as it is, is central to the story. HEIR is a fitting end to the “Box Cutter Trilogy.” It further explores some of the themes that Powell examined in the previous two films, as well as going far beyond and bringing in even more disturbing and dark themes. The bad news is that this short marks Powell and Fatal Pictures’ last short film. The great news is that they will be moving on to making feature length projects. HEIR will have its World Premiere at Fantasia this summer and I can’t imagine it won’t be blowing the audience away with it’s theme and visuals. I want more than anything to post the link to this amazing short so you can experience it for yourself, but we’ll have to wait for that. As soon as I get the okay from the producers, I’ll post it. For now, keep an eye out on your local horror film festivals and if you see HEIR is being shown, for fuck’s sake don’t miss this one!! Richard Powell may not yet be a recognizable name in horror, but he will be. FAMILIAR is now available to watch on iTunes.
Director: Richard Powell (& writer)
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars Gore: 7.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer