SEPTEMBER 18, 2013
SOURCE: STREAMING (ONLINE SCREENER)
If you've ever watched a zombie movie where the outbreak is caused by some sort of faulty medicine or experiment gone wrong and wanted a prequel to it, The Facility (previously Guinea Pigs) should hit the spot. It's not a full blown horror movie, but the afflicted characters DO exhibit symptoms not unlike the "rage" zombies of 28 Days Later, and the confined space/dwindling cast motif certainly gives it a bit of a John Carpenter flair (it's even widescreen!), so it won't be totally out of place in Fangoria (or Horror Movie A Day!) - I just hope none of its distributors attempt to pass it off as a full blown zombie flick.
Taking place only over a day or so, the film depicts the (supposedly true) tragic events that occurred during the testing for a new drug, with the willing participants exhibiting strange behavior a few hours after their dose. For various reasons, the group is locked off in a wing of the facility where no one will be able to see that anything is wrong, and for security reasons they're all without cell phones or any other means to contact the outside world - it's a pretty basic but still effective way to isolate everyone in an otherwise fully functioning facility (unlike say, Halloween II - were there NO OTHER patients at this hospital with a staff of 5?). And the setup allows for a reason for folks to offer up a lot of personal info - they're all strangers and thus are sort of obligated to give their names, a bit about their jobs, etc. This sort of material is usually shoehorned into a narrative in a clumsy manner (if they bother at all) because the "group" usually knows each other and thus has no reason to say what they do for a living or whatever; in short, it makes the characterization stronger than the average modern horror flick.
It also allows for a varied group; most of them are 25-30, but there's an older guy who apparently makes his living being a paid guinea pig for such things, and a young girl in the Juno Temple mode. Their occasional fights are understandable being that they're all stuck together in a shitty situation (as opposed to lifelong friends who inexplicably turn on each other instantly at the first sign of danger), and watching friendships form is always more interesting to me than watching them dissolve. I particularly enjoyed the friendship between Alex Reid (Beth from The Descent) and Aneurin Barnard (the dude from Citadel), which gave the film more of an emotional center than I was expecting.
And that leads me to a sort of puzzling notion about the screenplay - it tells us exactly the order in which the patients will turn. As they were injected in a certain order, an hour (or whatever) apart, they begin to turn crazy in the same order, so once that's figured out (before the halfway point!) it loses a crucial element in such movies: the "Who will be next to go?" idea. It'd be like if at the top of Scream 2 someone said "OK, CeCe goes next, then Randy, then Haley, then Derek...". We're even told about who WON'T turn (as they were the "control" and thus got a placebo), deflating the suspense even further. Sure, there's still the possibility that they get killed by one of the crazed fellow patients, but it still seems to me like the movie would be more fun/suspenseful if there was a chance anyone could turn at any moment.
Otherwise, it's a pretty enjoyable, small-scale thriller. I liked just about everyone (the only one I didn't went out early), and I LOVED that it wasn't overly complicated - no nefarious mad scientists watching them from behind a monitor, no reveal that they were developing some sort of new bio-weapon or whatever - it remained grounded and focuses on the characters' basic plight of being stuck and suffering from a potentially fatal injection. Also (sort of spoiler) the ending has a gutpunch of a twist that reminded me of a recent medical-horror movie that I also quite enjoyed (one that was more of a drama than a thriller), though I can't reveal the title without giving too much away for both. I actually wish they dragged it out a bit more; it happens quick and then we get on-screen text to wrap it up in full - I'd rather see the surviving character(s) hear that information, just to twist the knife a bit more.
Speaking of the on-screen text, the movie starts by telling us that it takes place a couple years ago and a final card saying "this is what happened". This led me to believe that the movie might be a goddamned found footage exercise, which would have resulted in a very fast closing of the tab. Luckily, it wasn't the case, but the irony is that if it WAS this would be the rare movie to justify it. Being that they were undergoing tests, it would make some sense to have monitors up all over the place, and it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for the doctor to give them all video cameras so they could keep a running journal or whatever. But nope! It's filmed like a real movie, and quite well I might add. First timer Ian Clark can rely on shaki-cam a bit much for my tastes, and some obnoxious hyper-editing during the more action-packed scenes (especially when a body is thrown through a window - there's something like 20 cuts in 5 seconds), but the widescreen images are often well blocked without much wasted space, something I see quite often by budding Carpenter wannabes. And it moves along nicely, drawing us into the situation and getting to know our heroes before all hell breaks loose.
The limited "horror" elements (i.e. kills) and emphasis on character in the first half might turn off the gorehounds, but otherwise I found this to be a refreshingly stripped down and suspenseful flick, the sort of thing I'd catch at a festival and would walk away happy that it wasn't the same old crap but also wasn't aiming too far beyond its means. Worth a look!
What say you?