Experiment (2005)
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Experiment (2005)


The very concept of mind control is absolutely frightening to most people. The idea that another person could control your very thoughts is the ultimate in loss of control over your life. As human beings we define ourselves by our thoughts and memories. Having someone alter that is taking away our personal identity. There is a good reason why people with various mental illnesses go to great pains to prevent thought control. That fear is rooted in the deepest part of our minds. Dan Turner, a first time writer and director has stated in an interview that this as always fascinated him as an idea for a thriller. He researched the now infamous experiments purportedly done by the CIA back in the sixties. It is widely believed that they experimented in way to secretly control the mind and subsequently the behavior of their subjects. Turner has taken this basically simple premise and ran with it. The result is his first feature length film. ‘Experiment’. This is remarkable especially considering this represents the freshman opus for Turner in both roles as writer and director. He did collaborate with another first timer, John Harrison, on the script and together than makes for a dark labyrinth that provides more than the usual number of psychological twists and turns for the audience.

There are many obvious influences on Turner but he doesn’t fall into the usual freshman trap of overly emulating them. One natural connection would be to Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’. There the story was told in reverse chronology as a man tried to piece together his memories. Turner employs a more conventional timeline but that is one of the few conventional aspects of this movie. He has cited Luc Besson and David Lynch as filmmakers that he admires and has provided inspiration. His role models are two of the most unusual and visually oriented directors of our time. It is therefore only natural that Turner uses the camera to participate in the deception heaped upon the characters and the audience. In some ways his use of the camera in this way reminded me of Sidney Lumet who is famous for using the camera as an active character in the story. Not only did Turner create something uniquely his he did so on a shoestring budget. This film cost about $250,000 with an apparently very tight shooting schedule. This may seem like a lot of money but in reality it would barely cover catering on a major flick. It is even small by many independent standards. It has to be noted that Turner did more than just meet these challenges; he seems to have flourished under these difficult conditions. When money and time are tight a director has to trust his instincts more than usual. There are no resources to allow take after take. In this film the result was a work that hits hard both on the visceral and psychological level. The film depends heavily on the visual style and musical cues to establish mood but he has not forgotten the human aspects provided by the actors. If this is how Turner begins his career I can’t wait to see his next work.

The film begins with a young woman, Anna (Georgina French) being unceremoniously kicked out of a van. She lies in the street unconscious until a car almost hits her. A man gets out checking on the woman. A crowd gathers around and pulls her to the sidewalk where she awakes, sits up and vomits. She is twitchy, disorganized and desperate to get away. In another part of the city a man, Morgan (John Hopkins) is floating in river. He comes to with a start and in a panic swims to shore. Although they have not yet met both Morgan and Anna have something in common, neither one can remember anything. Considering the title of the movie the audience can safely assume there is something diabolical behind their shared plight. As Anna wonders around the city it becomes apparent that she cannot speak. I kindly baker tries to help her by giving her a sweet treat. Meanwhile Morgan is set upon by a group of thugs. He is rescued by an old man, Joseph (Nick Simons) who takes him to his flat while Anna tries to find a place to sleep in an alley. In Morgan’s pocket is a note ‘Morgan find Anna’. Anna happens into a currency exchange center and his helped by one of the clerks. When she passes out at the counter he takes her to rest in his place. There she has terrifying nightmares of men in a cinder block room. Back at Joseph’s place the elderly man goes into a back room while Morgan is sleeping. There is a younger man with all sorts of electronic monitoring devices who discusses with Joseph cryptic details of signal strength.

As the film progresses details about Morgan and Anna come out as the two wind their way to meeting. It turns out that Joseph has been running a mind control experiment on them and is now tracking their progress for additional data. He works for a mysterious man named Walker (David Grant), a cold and calculating man of suspicious intent. There seems to always be someone from this covert group near Anna and Morgan watching and recording their reactions. At one point it seems that a prearranged trigger sets Anna off in a local night club and she attacks the patrons. There is something hidden deep in the minds of Anna and Morgan and it may be very dangerous.

This film is a radical departure from the current, unfortunate trend in thrillers; ‘hit them fast and hit them hard’. Most writers and directors feel the overwhelming need to start off with a bang. Frankly, this is an insult to the audience. Give us some credit for being able to sit through a story and appreciate how it builds. It is like the difference between a slow cooked meal and something out of a microwave. But will supply a meal that will fill you up but the slow cooked one have nuance to the flavors, time was provided to let them meld together. Turner may have been under a time constraint in the production but there is no evidence of it in the final cut. He gives the audience time to get to know the characters and emotionally connect to Anna and Morgan. So many thrillers fall apart in the third act because the writers have exhausted all their ideas before the ending. It is just he opposite here. The ending of the film is a twist that you will greatly appreciate. The key to a great thriller is managing the expectation of the audience and Turner has a gift for it. Some may complain that the film is boring, they would be wrong. You have to be able to understand the characters for the ending to work and that requires some attention on the part of the audience.

The cinematography by Gareth Pritchard is excellent. This is a visually interesting film that demonstrates how well digital media can be employed. The film has a narrative feel without the typical jumpy camera motion sickness. Turner also goes a long way to select the right musical cues for the piece. Combined with an above average channel separation and this film look and sound great. The DVD presented by MTI is in anamorphic 2.35:1 video and Dolby 5.1 audio. This film is well worth getting and enjoying.

Posted 01/29/08

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