Sam has always been obsessed with vampires, fascinated by the magnetism and dark power of the creatures. On his 21st birthday, he meets a mysterious older gentleman at a movie theater, who offers him a rare opportunity as a vampire's human caretaker and assistant, otherwise known as a "familiar."
Eager to experience the vampiric life himself, Sam accepts, seeing it as his route to becoming a creature of the night. But life as a personal assistant to the vampire Bolivar doesn't quite live up to its initial promise. The work is drudgery; the days and nights are long. And worst of all, Bolivar is an abusive jerk and horrible boss. Sam hangs in there for the promise of otherworldly power. But when he realizes that day may never come and he's wasting his life in a dead-end job, he takes matters into his own hands.
Written and directed by Kody Zimmermann, this clever horror-fantasy short is an entertaining mix of old-school vampire drama and dark workplace comedy. With wry humor and cheeky knowingness, it chronicles one young man's adventures into the underworld only to discover it's just another mundane grind.
The storytelling knows its genre bona-fides, as it's packed with references to classic vampire stories. But it has fun with the lore, particularly through Sam, who is positioned as the ultimate vampire fanboy. He has clear expectations of what the vampire life will be, but as he gets acclimated to his new job as the familiar, those expectations deflate.
That downward spiral offers the storytelling the chance to send up vampire mythology with clever, often understated wit, whether it's deployed through Sam's superbly written voiceover or arch, tart dialogue. But it also shapes Sam's story into a relatable tale of someone trapped in a toxic, thankless job with no room for growth or advancement, and an abusive, neurotic boss at the helm.
Actor Torrance Coombs is the film's center and anchor, and his descent into work-induced boredom and listlessness gives the film its narrative spine. As the vampire, actor Paul Hubbard portrays Bolivar as a demanding, capricious wannabe alpha with a deep core of insecurity. He plays Bolivar with a relish -- it's tremendous fun to witness his enthusiasm for "harlots" -- but his awful treatment of his familiar is never in doubt. When a chance encounter with a vampire hunter allows Sam the chance to move up the ladder, Bolivar's toxic character comes to the fore -- and Sam must take action, or else languish in the vampiric equivalent of corporate hell for the rest of his life.
Well-crafted, consistently entertaining and affectionately irreverent, "The Familiar" has the saturated colors and gleaming cinematography of a tale like "Buffy" or even "Blade," and in tone, the short falls into that breezy, witty and decidedly contemporary lineage. By telling a classic vampire story from the perspective of the underling, it injects a freshness into the genre, and a relatability for anyone stuck in unfulfilling livelihoods. The true horror for Sam isn't blood and death, but the fact that he'll be stuck with his toxic boss for eternity, doing the same thing over and over. To break out, Sam must find his path, but he learns plenty from his old one -- even if it's what he doesn't want in a career.