27 May - 2 June 2016 #810

The family fang

A film that manages the careful balance between dark comedy and psychological horror with a light, careful touch.
Sophia Pande

What is emotional abuse and how do you measure it? This is the crux of The Family Fang – a film that, considering its small budget, and independent origins, could have gone the route of massive self-indulgent histrionics, but instead manages the careful balance between dark comedy and psychological horror with a light, careful touch.

Based on a novel from 2011 by Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang was bought by Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films for adaptation. Fortuitously, the brilliant actor Jason Bateman came on board as both co-star to Kidman, and perhaps more importantly as director.

American independent films or ‘indies’ like The Family Fang can be hit or miss, often descending into depicting minor existential crises that are particular only to young, middle class North Americans and thereby banal and entirely irrelevant to the rest of the world. A case in point are the mumblecore films – a particularly annoying development from early 2000 that involves barely intelligible, unscripted, mumbling, demotivated young urbanites looking glum because they cannot find the meaning of life.

Thankfully, Kidman and Bateman’s joint venture from last year (the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015) is a tightly written, nuanced story about screwy families, unapologetic parents, and the ineffable but often inextricable bond between siblings.

Caleb Fang (played by Christopher Walken) and Camille Fang (Maryann Plunkett) are highly driven performance artists who stage incidents that upset the daily quotidian rhythms of people’s lives, filming their reactions and using them as art works. When their children are born, Annie and Baxter who are referred to by their parents, albeit playfully, as Child A and Child B become key catalytic elements in their pranks (I will not describe them for you here, suffice to say that are both hysterically funny and horrifying in equal parts) until the children revolt, unfortunately carrying their emotional scars into adulthood.

Kidman plays the adult Annie in her usual high strung manner, but thankfully, once again, Jason Bateman, as the adult Baxter provides a marvellous foil for his actress sister (yes, Annie is a famous actor). The younger Fangs live firmly away from the their kooky, sociopath parents, desperate to leave behind their widely celebrated, highly scrutinised childhoods when circumstances force them to return to the family home; the reunion is sweet, funny, and provides a great deal of insight to the very real bonds between parents and children, a set up that makes the rest of the film so much more poignant.

When the Fang parents embark on a road trip and are reported missing with their abandoned car full of blood, Annie and Baxter are convinced their incorrigible, ruthless parents have staged yet another art event. What ensues is a tragicomedy that will leave you bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.

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