★★ out of ★★★★★
When grandmas go bad.
Remember when we were talking about Crush The Skull and I said you could often judge a horror movie by its cover? Well, I decided to test that theory with writer/director Tommy Faircloth’s latest, Family Possessions. This thing has been racking up the awards and nominations on the festival circuit since it came out. Ten! Ten different nominations or wins for being the best; seven of those were actual, no bones about it, we are the champions, wins! Okay, one of the wins was for the screenplay, but hey! A win’s a win! And, yes, I know the nomination from the Beaufort International Film Festival was for Best Comedy, but that could say just as much about Beaufort, South Carolina as it does the movie. So? Was it impossibly brilliant? Did I successfully judge this movie by its cover?
The movie starts out as many haunted building movies do, with a dead relative. Poor Grandma Dunn had shuffled off this mortal coil and left all her worldly possessions to
her only child her college-age granddaughter, Rachel (Leah Wiseman). Wait, what? Yeah, that came as a bit of a shock to the Dunn family, too. Not only did she give everything to Rachel, but it all came with the stipulation that Rachel had to live in the house or nobody’d get nothin’! Take that, ya money-grubbers!
Truth be told, it was still a windfall for the financially struggling Dunn family. You see, Grandma Dunn’s son Steve (Jason Vail, who you may have seen in Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies), the patriarch of the family, had been out of work for longer than expected and purse strings were getting tight. Judging by what she does in the rest of the movie, the mother, Sarah (played by Morgan Monnig), mostly filled her days with sweeping the porch and she could do that almost anywhere. Happily, Grandma Dunn’s house (played by the historic Albion Dunn House) came equipped with a porch so off they went.
After moving in, strange happenings start occurring, odd occurrences start happening, and the Dunn’s find out granny was the town crazy. That did make it harder for the younger Dunns to meet people and little brother, Andy (Andrew Wicklum), spent most of the movie by himself in the front yard. Fortunately, Rachel found a friend in the neighbor girl, Maggie (Erika Edwards). From what I could tell, Maggie had been elected to be the town’s official provider of jump scares and the two young women got along famously.
As the mystery of Crazy Granny slowly deepens (and I do mean slowly), Rachel gets into a fight with her closet door and discovers the key to a creepy, locked trunk in the attic. Without spoiling too much, the rest of the film is full of witchcraft, snobby baristas, and someone loses an eye. Splat.
One thing going for Family Possessions is its commitment to practical effects. Not that there were a ton of effects as this was still very much a low-budget affair (some of the financing coming from an Indiegogo campaign), but the ones they had were put together by effects man Tony Rosen (creator of the Annabelle doll from The Conjuring and Annabelle). I’m not against CGI work, but practical effects are always a nice touch. Unfortunately, not all of them were used as effectively as they could have been (I’m lookin’ at you, weird puppet thing). Maybe that’s what led to the Best Comedy nomination.
The writing was decent enough most of the time and I’d say the acting was better than usual in a film like this. The most painful parts to watch were the interactions of the Dunn family themselves, who probably went on to win Most Awkward Family at the town fair that year. Otherwise, the cast seemed to know what they were doing. And it was entertaining to see the return of Mark Patton (“Jesse Walsh” from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) — this was his first film since his Elm Street gig in 1985.
Family Possessions suffered, as many low-budget films do, from a few technical issues: lighting in some scenes wasn’t great, audio in some of the interior house scenes echoed badly, and a couple of the drone-cam shots were mildly goofy, but that’s not why I wouldn’t recommend this movie. The biggest problem for this movie was pacing. It just seemed like every scene was about 30% longer than it should’ve been. And, with the movie clocking in at a thoroughly unnecessary hour and fifty minutes, I’d actually be curious to see if it could all be solved by re-editing it to be tighter.
Sadly, since that’s probably not going to happen, I’d say just give this one a pass.