Awards & Festivals

Film Review – Guinea Pigs @ Mayhem Horror Film Festival 2012

Ian Clark, writer and director of Guinea Pigs (also known as The Facility) said he aimed to create an “uncomfortable experience,” for his audience, and to a degree he succeeded in his endeavour. Guinea Pigs follows six very different individuals who have volunteered to take part in the testing of a new drug, ‘Pro9’. Their reasons for doing so vary from the altruistic (fighting as a soldier in the war against illness and disease), to the selfish (getting the inside scoop for a magazine article).

Things seem to being going pretty much according to plan to begin with, but during the first night in Limebrook Clinic the side effects of Pro9 start to kick in and a series of disasters ensues. Cocky playboy Jed (Oliver Coleman), the first to receive his dosage of the drug, wakes in agony during the night and needs urgent medical attention. He is soon followed by apprehensive student Arif (Amit Shah). The two act as the antagonists but are never really turned into bloodthirsty monsters; they easily could have been, but instead the audience remains slightly sympathetic towards them. Similarly, Guinea Pigs could have been turned into a zombie film with only a few changes, but this too is mercifully avoided, along with any other paranormal elements. It does not manage to remove itself entirely from standard horror film tropes, however, as I often found myself wondering why on earth the characters were doing such blatantly stupid things that were only ever going to put them in danger.

Guinea Pigs rarely ever takes itself too seriously (an oddity in a genre rife with dreary, inert characters delivering a dreary, inert script) with a fair amount of comic relief in the form of the quips of the hyper-cynical, veteran drugs tester Morty (Steve Evets), a man who has taken part in so many drug trials he is capable of setting up his own faux-pharmacy and creating a weapon fit for chemical warfare. Dippy blonde Carmen (Skye Lourie) and everyman Adam (Aneurin Barnard) also provide some laughs as they crack the type of joke we all attempt at the doctor’s or in a room full of people we don’t know. This light-heartedness comes at a cost as it greatly alleviates any tension which has built up and, as a result, Guinea Pigs is never truly terrifying. In fact, it struggles to be scary at all for the majority of its duration. That said, it rarely resorts to cheap scares, preferring to try and fill the viewer with a sense of deep dread rather than a fleeting moment of fright, which has to be admired. In the final handful of scenes though, it does become harder to watch as Clark achieves his goal of making the audience “uncomfortable”, although probably not to the extent he would have liked.

The acting is more than adequate across the board with some great performances from those playing Morty, Katie and Arif in particular. Similarly, the technical aspects of the film never give away its low budget origins with the camerawork and sound (an essential element of any horror film) being of a respectable standard. The lighting is often unrealistically dark but this is obviously a creative decision rather than technical restriction. A higher budget would have allowed for more special effects and better prosthetics, but you have to admire Clark for the techniques on display here in despite this.

Michael Wood

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