Gemma Files does not get the recognition that she so rightly deserves but fans of ChiZine Publications have come to know her work well over the years and have developed a keen appreciation of her talent. I was happy to have a copy of her latest novel, Experimental Film, and settled in for another weird and haunting tale.
Lois Cairns felt as if her life had lost direction. She had lost her job as a film history teacher at the local university and that coupled with her son’s recent autism diagnosis left her wondering if she would be able to find her way in the world or even if she was worthy of making something of her life which had so far only led to failure. That purpose is found when she discovers a lost film by experimental filmmaker Mrs. A. Macalla Whitcomb. That purpose, in fact, becomes an obsession as Lois feels compelled to explore the film and discover if it has any connection to Whitcomb’s mysterious disappearance years earlier.
Lois soon learns that the ghostly film is not contained to the material it is printed on, however, as the evil forces that plagues Whitcomb’s life begin to seep over into her own. As strange events begin happening in her life that mimic those of Whitcomb’s experiences, Lois realizes that she is not just investigating an old mystery but that she just may be looking for the answers that can save her own. Her depression turned to elation soon turns to horror as she realizes that there is more than just a film captured on the celluloid treasure she uncovered and that her interest in the film has unleased that horror once more.
Experimental Film has the subtle yet still shocking horror that I have come to expect from Files. She is a master at building up the atmosphere in her novels on a slow burn rather than relying on quick thrills and violence to make her point. This causes her works to take a longer time to read and more emotional and intellectual involvement in the story than many of the works of her peers but it is well worth the time and effort. In Experimental Film, Files forms this sense of dread to perfection and the reader can almost feel the doom that Lois is feeling bleeding out of the pages. I kept looking over my shoulder while I was reading the book as it almost felt as if there was something coming off the pages and gathering behind me much like Lois finds her terror on celluloid. There is little doubt that this is a horror novel and the horror aspects of the story are very, very good.
This novel could have been a great horror novel. It is very strong horror on a large scale while still feeling personal to the reader and that is something that is very difficult to achieve. The problem, however, is that the book also tends to meander too deep into film history, more specifically the history of Canadian films, and this served as a distraction for me as well as making the novel a little tedious to read at times. If this could have been cut out of the story, which would have shortened it by probably around 100 pages, then I think that the book would definitely be worth a 5 star review and a contender for the best book of the year. The inclusion of all this detail on Canadian films just held the story back and detracted from the urgency of the story so that it was somewhat frustrating at times as I waited for the story to kick back into gear. Readers should be warned that there are segments of the story that just are not that interesting to me and which I do not really think will appeal too much anyone but a film buff (or maybe to anyone familiar with Canadian films). Still, Experimental Film still turned out to be a strong read and an above average horror novel that could have been great but instead settled for very good.
I would like to thank ChiZine Publications and NetGalley for this review copy. Experimental Film is available now.