“Based on true events,” this one goes from haunted house flick to slasher mystery

Ben Nagy reviews
Rachael Dunn (Leah Wiseman) discovers the worst-ever treatment for gingivitis in the supernatural flick Family Possessions. (Screen capture from reviewer Ben Nagy).

I can’t begin to achieve the heights of rant nirvana that Joe Bob reaches in his writings or during his show breaks and would be foolish to try. My soapbox is about the equivalent of a pair of bars of Irish Spring bought at the Dollar Tree compared to his because he’s got about 38,579 flicks (counting double features) and about four bajillion columns up on me.

But I can yank those Irish Spring bars (smell the invigorating freshness) out on special occasions and four words – four measly words — used in the marketing material on the two flicks I’m going to review this week and next got me going.

Those four words are: Based on true events.

Or its first cousin: Inspired by true events.

It’s a trick that is as old as the original Amityville Horror itself, and let’s face it, the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre did it too with its opening narration. (Saw gets a pass though, because it played that card when the butts were already in the seats and the film was rolling, not when it was on the exterior of the disc).

But these days, does it really work?

Because it seems like every exorcism or haunted house or urban exploration gone wrong or missing person or serial killer or yahoo with a torture chamber flick says it’s “based on true events” or “inspired by true events,” moreso now than ever before.

It’s horror flick marketing cliché No. 1 these days. It’s lazy.

But maybe it does work. I’m just one person, so maybe I just have ridiculous expectations, and there are hordes of people out there who once they see those four words saying that the flick has a basis (tenuous as it may be) in reality, it becomes a must-see movie.

But keep this in mind. If someone did a movie about a dog pooping on the sidewalk called What Doggies Doo, that filmmaker could market it and say that it was “Inspired by true events.”

Please, if you are a filmmaker or an aspiring filmmaker – you owe it to yourself to come up with a better hook than that. Use better artwork. Get a super catchy tagline. Do not do your product a disservice after all the effort you’ve put into it by leaning on a cliché as a main selling point.

Speaking of main selling points, The Last Drive-In’s resident Mangled Dick Expert Felissa Rose and Mark Patton of Nightmare on Elm Street 2 get highest billing in the flick Family Possessions where an alleged witch leaves her house to her granddaughter.

That doesn’t mean that Felissa and Mark play the leads – they’re supporting characters who appear about 25 and 40 or so minutes into the movie and when the flick transitions from the spooky setup portion to the bloodletting, don’t expect to see em for too much more of the running time.

On to the story: The granddaughter, Rachael Dunn (Leah Wiseman), gets settled in with her dad, mom and brother in the town of Forest Creek, S.C. They’ve been having a tough go of it with dad Steve (Jason Vail) being out of work. Rachael’s on the cusp of college, but since Grandma Dunn left the estate to her and her alone, she decides to take one for the team while the family tries to get its economic situation sorted out.

The family gets the side eye from other residents of the town because of the shaky community reputation the grandma had – turns out Granny had been found robbing graves and had actually stashed corpses in the house that the family had moved into. But rather than have grandma jailed, Steve had her put in an asylum and had Rachael write to her as a kid just to keep the family ties alive.

Then weird stuff starts happening around the house with bumps in the night, unexplained visions, doors that just won’t stay shut, a possessed rocking horse, a sinister trove of things that grandma had left behind and a weird white-haired desiccated figure who keeps popping up around the house.

Then the murders start, but to what end?

Writer/director Tommy Faircloth shot Family Possessions beautifully with the exteriors of the family’s house and the asylum especially looking sinister in broad daylight. For the most part, he also avoids the trap – at least until the very end – of having the movie grind to a halt with dialogue.

But it got clunky, real clunky, as Family Possessions got closer to the end. People don’t turn on lights in their dark house even though the power’s not off. People don’t call the cops when they find other people dead. People don’t listen to the advice to get the hell out of somewhere when called on their cell phone. The murderer somehow pops out a victim’s eyeball using a meat cleaver (wasn’t there a serving spoon or an ice cream scoop around?).

There also was the potential to make this sucker do a hard pivot to go from haunted house/possession flick to some full-fledged small-town giallo action, but sadly that wasn’t fulfilled. (Really — the mystery was there and competently set up). Instead, the final confrontation in the basement between Rachael and the antagonist at the end got talky. One wonders why she and her companion didn’t get the hell out of Dodge as soon as they saw the My Little Satan Home Playset, pentagram and all, set up in the basement, and then after the evildoer appeared, Rachael continued to engage the antagonist in conversation once revealed.

(I’m not even sure there was a scene where the person who the antagonist was trying to frame and the antagonist met.  If so, it was either mentioned in passing or off camera).

The foundation was there in Family Possessions for something special, but it just didn’t quite deliver and sort of became an exercise in checking off the haunted house/possession clichés regardless of whether the filmmakers were inspired by true events or not.

Ben Nagy reviews

This one gets two stars.

Family Possessions is available on Vudu, Amazon Prime, Google Play and on DVD or visit the movie’s official Facebook page.