REVIEW: FAMILY SECRET (2010)
Geno McGahee’s horror/slasher film Family Secret is a low budget, independently produced-movie with a lot of heart, handful of no-name actors and actresses, and sub-par special effects and make-up…yet I still enjoyed watching this film because a few of the lead characters really gave decent performances and there were some well-delivered lines of dialogue that had me rolling in laughter…for the most part.
The story begins with Geno McGee (Forris Day, Jr.), a successful journalist and lead reporter for the local newspaper, getting news from the family that his grandmother has kicked the bucket. Upon hearing of this tragic turn of events, we find out his grandmother was not liked by Geno, as well as the rest of the family, of which Geno has not talked to or seen in over 10 years. Geno has really been out of touch with them and really does not care for anyone related to him. Geno, being a successful writer in the family with a hot wife, Danielle (Leean Aubuchon), and a good career is quite a contrast to everyone else in the family whom all seem to have financial issues, awful marriages, spousal abuse. It all reminds me of the type of folks that belong on the Jerry Springer Show.
The film starts out giving the audience a little taste of each family member and the dynamics of their family and home-life, as pathetic and worthless as that may seem. We get a sense of what a bitch his grandmother is when Geno (played excellently by lead actor Forris Day, Jr.) relays a story to his wife after waking up from a bad dream in which his late grandmother (referred to as Nana by Geno) comes to him in nightmarish fashion. When his wife, Danielle asks him about his grandmother Geno tells of her about a time when Nana snapped his dog Skipper’s neck in half when he was a little boy. Nana was one wicked bitch, beating young Geno and torturing him throughout his childhood. Immediately following this disturbing tale from his past, Geno decides it’s a good time to try to bang his wife. His wife voices my exact thought- who gets horny right after reminiscing about one’s evil grandmother? Yuck! The scene ends with Geno yelling, “Fuck me, Nana! Fuck me, Nana!” Classic.
As our story progresses, we come across more family members, such as the overweight Uncle Gary Vershon, played by newcomer Alex Pierpaoli (who totally reminded me of director and actor Kevin Smith). I guess Pierpaoli reminded me of Smith primarily because he possesses a beard, is overweight, and both of them are pretty damn funny. Uncle Gary Vershon is a foul-mouthed, insensitive, bigoted, lazy asshole. I believe most families have at least ONE Uncle Gary amongst them. I think Pierpaoli played the part of Uncle Gary perfectly and was one of the most memorable aspects to the whole film-that and Forris Day, Jr.’s performance. Both actors were splendid throughout the film and really made the movie very enjoyable to watch.
Although this film is a horror-whodunit-slasher-mystery type of film, I felt that the gore and special effects throughout the film were pretty boring and borderline awful. The gore and blood was not very well done and could have benefited from a bucket of blood thrown here and there, especially when meat cleavers and large knives are being used to murder unsuspecting victims by the “Granny Killer”. I think I would have enjoyed the film much more as a fan or horror and slasher films if there had been a bit more emphasis and focus on the effects created for each murder. Even with these aspects of the film that I felt were lacking, the cohesiveness of the story and plot is what holds this film all together and makes it interesting to watch and the performances given by a few key players in the movie add to the enjoyment of the film. Granted, some of the acting in the film is only a notch above awful, but the positive aspects to the film outshine most of the negative aspects.
I think I could sit watching Uncle Gary’s negatively vile character treating everyone around him like crap all day long. The guy is such a sleazy, rude, obnoxious asshole that does not give two-shits about his wife, his daughter, or anything around him unless it satisfies his own needs and wants.
As the film goes on, Geno is assigned to cover these murders that are being committed by someone or something that highly resembles the family’s late grandmother. Shortly after the funeral the murders start up and Geno’s family is being picked off one by one. Ignoring the fact that the newspaper assigning a family member related to all the murders just may be some sort of conflict of interest, Geno is determined to get down to the bottom of things and find out who is killing of his family- is it the grandmother, back from the dead, or is it someone just dressing up as an old lady who just goes around slaughtering one particular family’s members?
Director Geno McGahee, who also wrote the film, did a fine job of weaving a story that is both entertaining and interesting to watch. Although I have a slight gripe with the shoddy gore effects, the rest of the film was entertaining. There were enough well-done performances given throughout the film to keep one interested throughout.
I listened to the director’s commentary, which I highly recommend viewers to listen to, and there may have been a few performances given that I really had to disagree with the filmmakers’ views upon, such as the lines delivered by young actor Jacob Moon who plays this smart-ass kid, Larry, who happens to be hanging out at the bowling alley one night while members of Geno’s family also happen to be bowling there. There is a particular scene in which Larry is looking for two of his friends at the local bowling alley, finding them slayed by the “Granny Killer”, and reacts to their bloodied corpses by saying, “Angela, Angela, Angela…” in one of the most pathetic lines of dialogue ever given. Fortunately, these instances are far and few between. Just a few minutes prior, Moon was believably portraying a smart-ass little punk delivering some genuinely funny lines of dialogue.
Some of the lines of dialogue delivered were just too damn funny not to laugh at, even though this film is not to be categorized as a comedy. I think the mystery, comedy, and horror in the film is pretty well balanced and this is what makes the film work. If the crew had some more money to work with, I believe the blood and gore would have been more plentiful and this movie may have shined even brighter. Family Secret is a prime example and should be a lesson learned to many independent filmmakers- if one does not have loads of money to throw into a film’s production, write a solid story with great characters and dialogue performed by a handful of solid actors and actresses. Even if half the cast is lousy at acting and it looks like they are just robotic in reciting dialogue with no emotion whatsoever, a few strong leads can overshadow the amateur performances-which was the case here. I believe that to be the case here.
Upon listening to the commentary given by director Geno McGahee, actor and co-producer Alex Pierpaoli, and director of photography John Golden, I found out that Pierpaoli has not acted before, yet he gave one of the best performances throughout the film, and was definitely the funniest character to watch in any scene. He played the part perfectly and was really added some character and lowbrow charm to the whole production. My favorite scenes with Pierpaoli were when he is drunk in an Italian restaurant and bar, harassing a gay couple telling them he better not get too close to them or else he may catch A.I.D.S., as well as his scene in the bowling alley where he rips on one of the employees for being bald (his head was shaved). Uncle Gary pulls no punches- that is what I love about his character.
One of the funnier things commented on during the commentary was when director McGahee touches upon the fact that so many movies made in Hollywood nowadays, like Michael Bay mega-blockbusters and the Final Destination flicks, have a cast that looks right out of a modeling magazine- all the dudes are perfectly chiseled and have six-pack abs, while the women have tight asses and perky breasts. McGahee goes on to say that with the cast of Family Secret, this is not the case at all. Granted, there are some lookers in the film such as actress Leeann Aubuchon or Elizabeth Madera, but overall these actors and actresses are people one would run into on any given day at any given place. As director McGahee points out, when he goes walking out in public, “For every beautiful person I saw, there were fifty porkers!” (Well spoken, McGahee!).
The dvd, distributed by Tempe Video and released by X Posse/Webhead Entertainment Productions, can be ordered HERE. There also is a Facebook page for the film. I found it interesting that not only has Geno McGahee directed and made Family Secret, as well as Evil Awakening (2001), Rise of the Scarecrows (2003), and the upcoming Scary Tales (2012), he also reviews films from all genres and budgets, over at Scared Stiff Reviews. I am pretty sure that having watched tons of films from all genres has helped him learn what works and what does not work when making a film, as evidenced by Family Secret.
As the story gets closer and closer to coming to a conclusion and some answers are slowly answered as Geno McGee begins to uncover the truth behind the murders, the film becomes more and more enjoyable. At times, I thought I had a handle on who was murdering everyone, but as the film draws to its conclusion, the “family secret” is finally revealed and I don’t think ANYONE is prepared for what happens as all the questions anyone may have are finally answered.
Family Secret, as well as other indie horror flicks, are coming up with far more interesting and creative subject-matter than many of the movies coming out of Hollywood that have been recycled, regurgitated, and become redundant in countless sequels and thoughtless remakes. Geno McGahee has created a film that pays homage and tribute to many of the horror and slasher films that he talks about cherishing watching while growing up and Family Secret is a very admirable effort that was well executed and delivers the goods. I highly recommend checking this indie gem out!