Few filmmakers are as busy as Jason Figgis. The Irish underground auteur released two features last year – the very good Urban Traffik and Don’t You Recognise Me? (the opening movie at IFI’s 2016 Horrorthon). He has another two slated for release soon – horrors Charlie Manners and Torment (the latter I’m particularly curious about). Already with enough output to rival the similarly prolific and micro-budgeted Joe Swanberg, the director has released Family – a 48 minute film about to embark upon a festival run.
A companion piece of sorts to Urban Traffik – in the sense that it blends a crime plot with family drama and has a feminist slant – the film centres upon Dee (Love/Hate’s Lynn Rafferty). She returns to Dublin after spending three years in Berlin to avenge her brother Steo (Jason Sherlock), a small-time hood killed by gangster Joe (Stuart Dunne, The Snapper) after losing a bag of cocaine.
Shooting on a miniscule budget, its a credit to Figgis that his output looks as polished as it does. Family is the best-looking of his work I’ve seen. The city-scape shots are clear and vivid. Scenes in cars at night are atmospherically lit. The opening credits, featuring splashes of white and black (possibly representing a battle between good and evil), are stylish.
Figgis, whether working with unknowns or more high profile actors, is great at casting a part. His performers blend seemlessly into their environments. For example, Matthew Toman (also a producer and frequent Figgis collaborator) as Joe’s main henchman, with his distinctive buzzcut and goatee, looks autentically like a dodgy character one would avoid on the street. Meanwhile, on the opposite spectre there’s Adam Tyrell as Joe’s spoilt, bratty son – a minor but memorable and comic role which feels nicely lived-in.
The story – which mostly reveals itself through confrontational conversations – is meaty – dealing with familial betrayal, abandonment and other dark themes. In fact, if Family has a problem – aside from some awkward staging of action (understandable given the low-budget parameters in which Figgis works) – it’s that I almost wish it was feature length. It has many interesting characters – Toman’s psychotic gang-banger, Mac, a lesbian confidant of Dee’s, played by Aoife King (Mammal, In View) – that only appear for a scene. These roles, as well as some plot-points (I picked up some incestual undertones whether intentional or not), could be expanded on.
Yet, perhaps the measure of a solid short is to leave the viewer wanting more, letting the film linger on in the audiences’ minds. If so, Family is a success. It’s gritty environment is palpable, the performances are fine and a climactic moment between Dee and Joe Jr. is tense. If Family is playing at a festival near you, it’s well worth a look.