This inspired micro-budget film opens in a police station's meeting room, where the duty DCI addresses several police officers advising that an anonymous package arrived there earlier that morning. Inside was a smashed video camera, but technicians have managed to salvage the footage contained within. In thirty years on the force, the DCI claims to have never seen anything so horrifying. Before pressing "play" on the screen before them, he encourages his officers to make notes as they proceed to watch.
This leads us into the main body of the film, found footage of a spectacularly ill-fated student project.
Our focus then shifts onto the footage itself, where we meet University students Elliott (Uriel Davies) and Jake (writer-director Kieran 'Ran' Edwards). They're first seen introducing us to a documentary they're about to embark upon, which is going towards their respective degrees in film and video production.
Elliott regales us of a grisly case stemming back to November 2006, where the body of a man, Bob, was found horrifically mutilated at the opening of local Ribbesford Woods. Controversy persists to this day over who the perpetrator was; Elliott and Jake want to investigate and finally find the truth, interviewing people from the scene at the time. With even Bob's cause of death still being classified as unknown - was it a wild animal attack, or "cold-blooded murder" - it seems like a mystery ripe for exploration.
The ensuing action revolves around one, sometimes two, video cameras. Elliott acts as the ensuing documentary's host interviewing subjects on screen, while Jake mans the camera(s) and chips in occasionally.
Their first interview is with local newspaper reporter Reeve (Tom Lee Rutter). He led the reports on the case at the time and is able to expand on how the police told him two other people were also involved: an engaged couple who were enjoying a walking holiday in the area - Paul and Sally (Sarah Page). Paul disappeared on that day and has never been seen since. Was he a victim, or an aggressor? This is one of many questions our budding documentarians seek to answer. Reeve plays an audio recording he made at the time of a passer-by who witnessed Sally fleeing, covered in blood, warning for him to also do a runner before "it kills" him.
It transpires that Sally was ultimately arrested for Bob's murder, and later found guilty of the crime in a high-profile court case. All the way through her trial, she protested her innocence, maintaining that "The Beast" was the one responsible for ripping Bob's face off and tearing his throat out.
Following that, several locals are interviewed on the street; their opinions on Sally's guilt are decidedly mixed.
Next, Elliott and Jake pay a visit to Professor Moses (Christopher Gadd), who lectures on Myths and Legends. He says the legend of the "Beast of Ribbesford Woods" has persisted for hundreds of years, with numerous claims of sightings - he even has photographs from people who allege to have encountered it. We get a glimpse of said photographs, and get sight of what looks to be like a bear-like creature. During his interview, Moses also reveals that one of the photos was submitted by Rex (Ross Mooney), brother of the still-missing Paul.
Better still, Moses has Rex's number and handily passes it on. When the filmmakers say they intend to eventually visit the woods in question, Moses pays them a cautionary "I don't want to frighten you, but just be very careful". Oo-er.
Inevitably, their next interview is with Rex. He's a rather intense character, insistent upon the fact that Paul and Sally didn't kill anyone. It was the Beast. "I've seen this thing with my own eyes" he protests.
The filmmakers believe they've landed a real scoop when they bag an interview with Sally herself, direct from the secure psychiatric unit where she's being held. Elliott and Jake seem particularly excited as they make their way into the building to interview their star witness.
Sat in bed initially, Sally appears to be nervous and twitchy. She claims Paul was attacked by the Beast while they were walking in the woods. She fled the scene, running until she reached stranger Bob's car, and pleaded for him to drive away but then the Beast attacked him too so she got out and continued to race for her life. Alas, Sally becomes irate when she doubts whether they believe her story, and starts flinging chairs around. The filmmakers bolt out of there. This leaves Jake convinced of her guilt but Elliott still thinks something is amiss about the whole case - he wants to unearth more.
With stories of a wild animal possibly roaming the woods, our intrepid pair are next off to a nearby safari park to interview zoologist Logan (David Clarke) about this matter. He's a little like Worcestershire's own Tiger King, if you will. He concedes it's possible that there could be a big cat in Ribbesford Woods but believes such tales to be nothing more than a myth.
This all leads to our documentarian students heading out into said woods with Rex and Logan. The mood is one of enthusiastic anticipation. "This is gonna be awesome, can't wait", exclaims Elliott. Well, that mood soon changes when they get creeped out by tracks in the earth that Logan identifies as being an animal much larger than any dog. Everyone wants to get the fuck out of dodge at that point but Rex keeps going, and so the others feel obliged to follow. After three hours of hiking, they all realise they've been walking round in a big circle. Arguing ensues, but this is swiftly cut short by what sounds like screams in the near distance.
This may all end in our four explorers sitting down for a nice picnic and a game of "I Spy". But that seems unlikely.
Filmed over the course of one year, THE DEVIL'S FAMILIAR seeks to take the found-footage genre and add something fresh to it. It starts off quite unassumingly but soon hooks in with likeable protagonists and a few interesting twists in the narrative as events progress.
The pace is well structured, escalating nicely but without undue haste as a palpable sense of tension begins to seep through once the carefully-placed exposition has been established and our protagonists throw themselves into the woods. Sound design is suitably eerie too when it's required to be.
Director Kieran Edwards, working under his Severed Head Entertainment production banner, has crafted a superior found footage flick on what looks to be a miniscule budget. I enjoyed the natural performances - Page is good in her role, considering she had to stand in at the last minute for another actress who couldn't meet the schedule - and the Worcestershire locations are well chosen, attractive. The fact that Edwards gained access to film in Kidderminster hospital is impressive, and definitely adds gravitas to the end results.
The set-up is satisfyingly incremental, while the more overt horror footage during the final act takes the drama in directions I wasn't expecting - while, crucially, making sense of the film's title.
THE DEVIL'S FAMILIAR premiered at the Horror on Sea 2020 festival, and has since picked up worldwide distribution by Darkside Releasing who are due to put it out on DVD later this year.
The online screener link sent to us for review purposes showcased the film in its uncut form, at 56 minutes and 32 seconds in length. The picture quality was very good considering this is meant to be footage retrieved from a broken camera. It flickers occasionally, of course, but any distress is intentional. English audio is satisfyingly clean and clear at all times.
THE DEVIL'S FAMILIAR is a solid addition to the ever-growing found-footage horror pantheon. Edwards shows great potential.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Darkside Releasing|