Family Possessions (2016)

Rating: C+

Dir: Tommy Faircloth
Star: Leah Wiseman, Jason Vail, Erika Edwards, Morgan Monnig

When the grandmother of Rachael (Wiseman) dies, she’s startled to discover that the woman’s will skipped the son – Rachael’s father – entirely, leaving a large house in another town to her grand-daughter. There’s just one catch: Rachael and her family have to live in it. But with Dad (Vail) out of work, they’re willing to make the move. After they arrive, it’s not long, however, before Rachael starts to discover some unpleasant truths. That “nursing home” in which her relation was supposedly living? Actually a loony bin, for she was found to be digging up corpses in the local cemetery, to use in occult rituals. Yep, Granny was a witch, which doesn’t exactly do the incoming family’s reputation any good:

Those aspects reminded me of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, even if the tone here is ominous rather than comedic (although surprisingly, there were a couple of genuinely funny moments). For not helping are strange occurrences in the new house, with unexplained sounds, the “things” both Rachael and her kid brother start seeing, or the nightmares she endures. Rachael finds her grandmother’s spell book in the attic, and her spooky pal Maggie (Edwards), about the only local willing to hang out with her, discovers the spell for which the body parts were required. Which is about the time various people start showing up, dead and with bits missing.

Solid enough, this is at its best when generating low-key atmosphere, Faircloth making good use of the small-town locations. There are a couple of obvious jump scares, but these aren’t very effective, not least because the head/mask (presumably the dead grandmother, though it’s never explained) is thoroughly unconvincing. Better are little things, like a chair suddenly whizzing across the floor of the attic, or a basketball rolling by itself. Wiseman gives a good performance, which keeps the movie grounded, and the rest of the cast are generally decent too: 80’s actors Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) and Mark Patton (Elm Street 2) turn up in supporting roles.

At 111 minutes, it is probably twenty longer than necessary, especially in the first half. The story spends too long establishing the set-up, and as a result, the ending feels rushed, with it suddenly accelerating from leisurely meandering to a bit stabby, after the corpses start showing up. I’d have dotted them throughout the film, and perhaps added a mystery element of Rachael trying to find out who is behind the witchery. There are several plausible candidates, whom the script ignores from this aspect. Though guess I’m here to review the film, rather than my upcoming remake of it.

Probably the main flaw is the lack of any significant “hook” to make it stand out, in what’s a crowded genre. We reached the end, and certainly didn’t feel like our time had been wasted. Yet there’s no death scene, performance or other element which stands out, in a way that we’d say to anyone, “You have to see Family Possessions, because ______”. Worth watching; just probably not worth re-watching.