It seems appropriate that Fatal Pictures have done such justice to the body-horror genre, a sphere of filmmaking so closely associated with their fellow Canadian and Torontonian David Cronenberg.

Familiar begins as an American Beauty-style satire of middle-class North American life, and morphs into psychological suspense thriller before mutating into full-blown body-horror. This transition reflects the film’s clever title, which alludes first to the banal repetitiveness of everyday existence, second to family itself and last to the idea of a familiar spirit, a demonic alter ego.

Richard Powell’s story concerns John Dodd, a middle-aged man so resentful of his supposedly parasitical wife and daughter that he has come to cherish the sleeping hours when “all that I hate is silent and unconscious.” He imagines his family conspiring to trap him — “in time, these jailers will take everything,” he muses — and loathes every moment of waking life. Robert Nolan is fittingly starchy and contemptuous in the role, though by no means unsympathetic. It’s hard not to share his irritation as the sound of his wife chopping vegetables pecks at our ears. He stares in her direction with a disdainful yet almost wry roll of the eyes, and it’s hard not to think, Yeah, we’ve all been there, John.

But even as we identify in some small way with John, it’s clear from the start he lacks perspective, to put it mildly, and there is real hate. A disturbing journey commences as his paranoia manifests itself in increasingly destructive ways, an increasing divide between John and his demonic passenger, culminating in a grotesque self-exorcism. Nolan plays the transition very effectively; the only false note is the snarling lip early on — an excessive touch that doesn’t really belong in an otherwise-subtle performance.

The special effects, by Ryan Louagie, Carlos Henriques and Steven Dawley, had this reviewer literally clenching his teeth. Were I to pick fault with a largely impressive movie, however, I would note that the over-long close-ups detracted somewhat from the brilliantly conceived and necessarily repulsive effects. Slightly shrewder editing would have enhanced the finale, although this flaw is minor in an absorbing and tightly crafted thriller.

Watch the Familiar trailer below:

Familiar was written and directed by Richard Powell, and produced by Zach Green (Fatal Pictures). It won the award for Best Short Film at Chicago Fear Fest in 2012. For news and details of upcoming screenings, click here for the official Facebook page.