“Family Possessions” (2016): Inherited House Hides Terrifying Secrets

Part supernatural mystery thriller and part gory slasher movie, writer/director Tommy Faircloth’s Family Possessions is a fun ride that kept me entertained throughout. Fans of independent fright fare should also have a great time with this offering.

The Dunn family is in dire financial straits; father Steve (Jason Vail) is between jobs and mother Sarah (Morgan Monnig) is doing her best to hold things together. When Steve’s mother Albertha dies, the family is shocked to find out that she left all of her worldly possessions, including her house, to Steve and Sarah’s daughter Rachael (Leah Wiseman), who had been writing her grandmother letters regularly since she was a small child. There’s a catch, of course: Rachael must live in the house or it will be sold and the money donated to charity.

In writer/director Tommy Faircloth’s Family Possessions, Leah Wiseman plays Rachael Dunn, who has inherited a house from her grandmother – a woman shunned by the local townsfolk for her occult practices.

Rachael is unhappy about the move to Horse Creek, South Carolina; she is ready to start university and be out on her own. She sacrifices for the family, though making it known that this needs to be a temporary arrangement. Soon after moving in, Rachael and her younger brother Andy (Andrew Wicklum) begin to see and hear strange things in the house. Rachael also learns from new neighbor friend Maggie (Erika Edwards) that Albertha has a disturbing past tied to the occult, about which Rachael’s parents have been less than honest to their daughter. As Rachael and Maggie dig deeper into Albertha’s secrets, diabolical and eventually deadly events become more frequent.

The story seems ready to tread over some familiar territory and it certainly has its share of tropes aboard, including a ball that moves on its own, a slowly-checking-under-the-bed scene, and a fair share of creaking doors. To Tommy Faircloth’s credit, though, his screenplay boasts plenty of originality and Family Possessions offers far more than simply stock devices.

Genre veteran Felissa Rose portrays a troubled single mother.

Family Possessions uses several jump scares, but it also proffers far more than that, including eerie atmosphere, a sense of mystery, and a series of gruesome kills, some of which pay homage to slasher fare of the film’s 1980s forebears. A toothbrushing scene near the beginning of the film had me squirming as I watched it, and it was disturbing enough that I still get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about. The set design offers some spooky details, particularly in the film’s opening sequence and in the house’s attic.

Leah Wiseman anchors the film’s performances with her superb portrayal of Rachael. Wiseman’s expressions are soulful and realistic, and she portrays her character with a perfect combination of fragility and strength. She hits the right notes at the correct time without ever going over the top or underplaying things too much.

Mark Patton tackles his first film role in more than three decades in Family Possessions.

Other performances range from solid to a bit stiff to some scenery chewing. Horror film fans will be interested to know that two genre veterans have supporting roles here. Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) makes his first appearance in a movie in more than 30 years, as Tyson, half of a comic-relief duo of baristas who serve up major attitude. His partner in hurling insults is Tristen, played with verve by Elizabeth Mears. Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) portrays Maggie’s bitter, hard-drinking mother Susan.

Tony Rosen’s practical special effects and makeup are a blast. Although they are modern looking and quite gruesome, they hearken back to the cinematic past in the best ways, and I even felt a touch of classic Eurohorror at times.

Tommy Faircloth handles cinematography duty along with his writing and helming tasks, showing off an impressive array of shots and framing. Sometimes the camera creeps around buildings or into and around rooms; other times, it isn’t shy about staying static to highlight Tony Rosen’s effects or an actor’s expressions. Simon John Wilkinson’s score fits the film marvelously, with chilling strings, eerie piano, and some synthesizer pieces, as well.

New friend Maggie (Erika Edwards) helps Rachael uncover long-buried truths about the latter’s grandmother.

With all that goes on in Family Possessions, it could be easy for things to go astray or get muddled, but Tommy Faircloth’s direction keeps everything under control. He also served as editor, and it is obvious that he had a vision in mind with all of his roles, and he did a crackerjack job seeing that vision to a successful end.

Family Possessions is new to the film festival circuit, so watch for it at a fest near you. For screening dates and other information, visit horsecreekprods.com.

Family Possessions: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.