by Jef Burnham
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Experiment is an independent sci-fi thriller from England, hearkening back to an era dominated by paranoia. Anna, whose desperate screams pierce the title sequence, is dropped out of a van into the middle of the street with no memory of who she is or how to speak. Morgan washes up out of a canal elsewhere in the city with the same afflictions. Set in Prague, these two British amnesiacs, inexplicably drawn to one another, find an unnamable fear haunting them wherever they go. All the while, a collection of scientist conspirators from nations of the former-USSR monitor the pair, and with a mere three days to complete their mysterious experiment, they toy with the last shreds of their subjects’ sanity.
The film gains a lot of clout with fans of science fiction like myself, as the Hi-Def look of the film is similar to that of the recent seasons of BBC’s Doctor Who and Torchwood. Digital photography requires a great deal of skill on the part of filmmakers, and co-writer/director Dan Turner proves here that he is capable of utilizing the medium. Filming in any digital format usually requires that the cinematography be handled in a much different way than film to be successful. An astounding shot on film will often be rubbish on digital, but in no small part thanks to the stylization of the film’s lighting, the filmmakers were able to shoot most of Experiment as if they were shooting on film.
Dan Turner and co-writer John Harrison harnessed the Communist paranoia of the films of the McCarthy era to give Experiment and its principal characters a sense of danger like that of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Anna’s emotions are dictated by the unseen threat, and she finds danger in everyone and everything around her. The people on the streets stare with terrifying iris- and pupil-less eyes. Filled with an overwhelming terror, Anna becomes “activated” and bursts into a frenzy at the whim of her puppeteers.
The simplicity of the science fiction elements add immensely to the film’s realism, as does, the unfortunate pacing. Often I found the pacing of the film to be a bit too realistically sluggish, focusing more on the scientists than necessary. My personal preference is for conspiracy stories to play out with a bit more mystery and haste. Without the scientists, the story might as well be that of an episode of The Twilight Zone, but with them, it drags with conversations about deadlines and shots of the scientists’ screens, tracing Anna and Morgan’s movements. However, the film is filled with enough surprises that you can turn a blind eye to its flawed pacing.
The street date of the Experiment DVD from MTI Home Video is March 4.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.
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