• Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: November 27th, 2020.
    Director: Douglas Buck
    Cast: Jared Barsky, Gary Betsworth, Ray Bland, Sally Conway, Jayne Deely, Larry Fessenden
    Year: 2003
    Purchase From Severin Films

    Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America – Movie Review:

    Kind of a cross between Ingmar Bergman and Todd Solondz but with more of a horror genre bend, Douglas Buck has been making independent horror movies for a few years now. Before you instantly dismiss that as shot on video garbage, let it stand that not only are the three movies in this set shot on film but they're some of the most mind-bending and intense examples of what a horror movie can be to come down the pipe in a long while. In short, they're the cinematic equivalent to a swift punch to the balls, but in the best possible way. They hurt you, they make you feel something sharp and fast, and they leave you wanting to curl up in the fetal position and cry.

    These movies have been staples of underground and horror oriented film festivals for a few years now and were released independently as a two disc set by Buck and then by Image Entertainment. Severin Films now brings these movies to high definition for the first time.

    Cutting Moments:

    In this horrifying slice of life short, a wife and mother (played by Nicca Ray) goes about her daily routine as any of us would until she finds out that her husband (Gary Betsworth) is molesting their son. She decides that she should be the subject of his desires and/or abuse and in order to bring the obviously negative attention he relishes on their child onto herself instead, she opts to get his attention by way of some horrifying self-mutilation. As the authorities are on their way to take him away, her desperate measures increase as it all builds to a completely messed up conclusion.

    Heavy stuff indeed. This one is very well acted, Ray in particular shines in her part and is believable in her confusion and at the same time in her conviction. It builds really well and the last ten minutes are incredibly intense. When she realizes the inevitable, and comes to the conclusion that she has no other choice, her actions go completely off the deep end. This isn't one for the squeamish…


    This is, in a sense, a remake of the first short though this time out instead of getting it from the wife's point of view, we get it from the husband's. Gary Betsworth once again plays the man of the house, who spends his days toiling away at the office trying to earn a buck. We learn through some intense flashback scenes of his childhood, where he was beaten by his parents and pretty harshly abused. From there, we come to realize that Gary is very much a product of his upbringing and that the emotional and social poison fed to him in his younger, formative years has spread to his own family – his wife and kid respectively.

    After watching the first short we know how this one is going to end pretty early on but that hardly diminishes the impact that the movie has when it finally achieves its destiny. The acting isn't as strong the second time around but it is still better than what you'll find in most low budget genre efforts. What it does do really well is, like the first short, build and build some more and once again, the last few minutes are completely riveting and very intense.


    In the final part of the trilogy, we learn of a teenage girl who has spent the last few years of her life in the hospital recovering for a horrific assault that left her without any hands and almost completely paralyzed. As her memories start coming back to her, a little bit at a time, she begins to remember the events that took place and finally decides to find out from the man who did this to her 'why.'

    Less confrontational in terms of gore or flat out disturbing visuals, Prologue is never the less incredibly bleak, even if it doesn't go as far as the first two movies do. It's a very well made film that has stronger performances than its predecessors and more believable character development thanks in part to its longer running time. This is a more reflective film than the first two, and rather than hit us outside the head with the act of violence instead we're left to ponder the after effects of it. As such, it's appropriately titled and the perfect way to cap off the two movies that came before it.

    Note that you can watch these short films individually or as 'The Trilogy' which is how it was theatrically released in Paris and New York City in 2004. This is basically the three films were edited together into one longer film. While viewing the three shorts as separate entities is the ideal way to watch them on disc, it's interesting to sit down with them all joined together. There are some minor differences in this version in terms of how the material is edited and in how the credits are displayed (you don't get individual credits for each short, you get one set of opening credits and one set of closing credits instead).

    Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America – Blu-ray Review:

    Severin Films presents Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America on Blu-ray taken from new 2k scans of the original film elements framed at 1.66.1 widescreen and in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and taking up 25.8GBs of space on the 50GB disc. These are all pretty grainy and there’s some mild print damage noticeable here and there but the picture quality is definitely a big step up from the older DVD release. Colors look pretty solid and detail is good here as well.

    The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 track is also quite good. Closed captioning is provided in English only. No problems with the audio, it sounds clean, clear and properly balanced. Dialogue is always easy to understand and there’s some nice depth to the score.

    New to this release is a commentary from Maitland McDonagh over the Trilogy version. She talks about how the short films were made a few years apart, how they deal with American families in crisis, the ordinary suburban elements of Cutting Moments, small details like the makeup on the wife in the first short, details of the characters and the quality of the effects in the film, the portrayal of complex sexuality. For the second short she covers the recurring theme of a very unhappy family, how effective Buck is at building suspense, the portrayal of evil in the story and how these shorts reflect American society. With the the third short, she covers the significance of the title Prologue, how the story sticks with you, the portrayal of family dysfunction, how uncomfortable some of the scenes make the viewer, the film's strong ending and lots more. It's a pretty insightful look at the material.

    Douglas Buck provides a solo commentary track for each of the three films in the set. Throughout these tracks he talks about where he got some of his inspiration from, what influenced him to make these movies, and how he feels about some of the more difficult subject matter. He also covers shooting on a budget, working independently outside of the system. They're interesting tracks and he covers a fair amount of ground. Each of the three shorts also contains a second commentary. In the case of Cutting Moments it comes courtesy of writer Douglas Winter, for Home it comes from film professor John Freitas and for Prologue it comes from another film professor named Marc Lapadula. These tracks are more analytical in nature, they examine some of the deeper meaning to the movies and lend a fair bit of insight into what Buck really gets right with this work.

    Up next is a sixteen minute black and white short film from Buck entitled After All. Made in 1994, this one is about a messed up young boy who gets off on watching nature documentaries specifically so that he can see animals slaughter one another. Buck shot this one while he was in school and it isn't as polished as the three main attractions here but it is never the less an interesting examination of a twisted mind and an interesting foreshadow of what he would do in his later movies.

    Severin also includes Cutting Moments Interviews from 1998 which is a collection of forty-eight-minutes' worth of interviews where Buck talks about where he got the ideas for Cutting Moments from, coming up with some of the visuals, casting for and developing the story, what it was like directing the picture and more. Nicca Ray is interviewed about her work on the film, having control over a key scene, getting into character, memories of shooting key scenes, the makeup required and more. Gary Betsworth talks about the challenges of playing his character, improvising during the shoot, how Buck was to work with as a director and thoughts on the final product. SFX guy Tom Vukmanic also shows up to discuss his work, having to create some genuinely unsettling effects and working with the cast and crew. After that we get a few minutes with Tom Savini who talks about the movie, and then an interview with composer William Demartino who talks about how he came on board and what it was like putting together the music for the short.

    That's Dark is a collection of podcast episodes. It's done in three parts. The first two parts aired on September 30th, 2018 and then the second part, which is a formal interview with Buck, aired June 11th, 2019. It's a nice mix of critical analysis of the film as the hosts talk about the film's more disturbing elements.

    We also get a quick deleted scene from Prologue (where in just over a minute two of the characters conduct a quick conversation), and sixteen-minutes of behind the scenes footage from Prologue.

    Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America – The Final Word:

    Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America is frequently unsettling but Buck’s talent for getting under the audience’s skin is undeniable. These are sometimes gory, sometimes shocking but more importantly than that, they’re always though provoking. Severin has done a nice job bringing the material to Blu-ray with a solid presentation and quite a few worthwhile extra features. A really strong release for some challenging material.

    Click on the images below for full sized Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America Blu-ray screen caps!