|Image: Fetch Publicity|
Seven volunteers sign up to a drug trial: for two weeks in an isolated medical facility taking an experimental drug known as Pro9, they will each receive £2000. As you might expect, things do not go according to plan and after but a few hours there is much fretting, sweating, screaming and bloodshed.
While the premise might appear old hat, The Facility is nonetheless a solidly enjoyable low-budget shocker. Hospitals are always a good setting for horror films (think Halloween II, Cold Prey II, Lars Von Trier’s The Kingdom), and writer-director Ian Clark successfully draws out the chilling potential of the empty wards and long, dark corridors. Director of Photography Stuart Bentley deserves mention too for the tight camerawork, the invasive gaze playing on the the niggling paranoia and claustrophobia of the characters.
Credit is also due to the very game cast, which comprises both spirited up-and-comers and steady old hands. Among the unlucky human guinea pigs we have wide-eyed young postgrad Adam, played by Aneurin Barnard (Citadel), cocky estate agent Jed (Casualty’s Oliver Coleman) and drug-trial vets Joni (The Descent’s Alex Reid) and Morty (Steve Evets, who I last saw in the superb Looking for Eric). Everybody gives a committed and interesting performance and, beyond perhaps a couple of slight missteps, they handle the mounting histrionics well. The naturalistic dialogue feels improvised at times, which only adds to the tense atmosphere.
On the downside, I can’t understand why Ian Clark would choose to frame the story with the sort of captions that one would expect on a found footage film. Indeed, some of the pre-publicity seemed to suggest that this might be in the found footage genre, which is misleading. While Clark does make use of CCTV cameras, the entirety of the film is not done this way, and I was thankful for this. Found footage can be interesting, but in this case I feel that resorting to budget-saving found footage devices would have made the film look less accomplished.
There are a couple of moments which stray a little too far into familiar territory, with one scene using both the ‘taking photos to illuminate a dark room’ and ‘dropped camera creating a strobe effect over an attack scene’ tropes, which felt out of place. The running time is also on the short side – while the film is definitely effective, a bit more build-up and time with the characters would not have gone amiss.
An interesting aspect of the film is that it functions as a neat comment on the state of the jobs market today, but does not labour its point. In a few subtle exchanges, especially as career lab-rats encounter desperate students, Clark draws a disturbing picture of how far people will go to earn money. ‘Bit young to be doing this, aren’t you?’ asks a journalist, on the study for a story, of a 19-year-old girl. ‘Dunno, haven’t got anything else to do’ she replies. This sort of commentary is prime horror currency at the moment, coming after American Mary similarly highlighted the ways in which money-making is becoming an ever riskier business.
Taut and short, The Facility is an impressive debut feature which makes a virtue of its location and is blessed with a strong cast. It sounds clichéd, but writer-director Ian Clark is most definitely one to watch.