Who am I? What am I?
Amnesia has always been a favorite plot device for filmmakers, and it probably always will be. Part of this is creative laziness, but when used wisely, amnesia can be a potent metaphor for everyday life. Like the amnesiac, we all wonder who we really are, and what purpose (if any) we have. Writer/director Dan Turner explored amnesia as a tool of manipulation in his creepy, micro-budgeted 2005 thriller Experiment.
A woman (Georgina French) wakes up in the middle of the street somewhere in a city unfamiliar to her. Her memory is so far gone that she’s forgotten how to read and how to communicate. Elsewhere in the city, a man (John Hopkins, Grand Junction) wakes up in an almost similar predicament. He’s better able to communicate, and he comes across a clue leading him to the woman. Once together, the man and woman struggle to find out what’s become of them, and who they are. Elsewhere, a group of men watch them on monitors, following their progress very closely.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a feeling of disorientation, temporarily forgetting where you are? This usually happens to people while traveling, or nights involving rampant drunkenness. That sudden, sinking panic of “Where am I?” Experiment nicely plays on the fear of disorientation. What would you do if you found yourself alone in a foreign city with no ID, no knowledge of the language, no one to contact, etc.? That’s the situation our two protagonists find themselves in, along with the additional paranoia of not knowing anything about themselves. They are complete blanks, and Experiment shows how terrifying being a complete blank would be.
The actors perform their parts admirably. Georgina French has the thankless job, spending most of the movie wordless and frightened. French throws herself into the role, never holding back. At times, she’s in danger of doing the “fast, panting breaths” thing when her character is scared. But mostly, she’s the heart of the movie, driven to the point of hysteria by the craziness happening all around her. John Hopkins is the more “take charge” character. Together, they’re a good pair. He helps her find her strength, and she helps him make an emotional connection with someone important later on.
As good as the acting is, the real star of the movie is the script, by Dan Turner and John Harrison (not the TV Dune John Harrison, but a different one). A lot of the twists are good ones, and many of the side characters in the city have their own stories to tell. The final third of the movie contains a number of surprises, in which the plot travels down a very non-Hollywood path. The disc’s bonus features, slim though they are, reveal that Turner made the movie for very little money. He did this on purpose so no studio producers or financiers could force him into changing the story for whatever reason. Experiment is exactly the movie the filmmaker wanted it to be, and it’s a fascinating, enjoyable film as a result.
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how the titular “experiment” is meant to work, exactly. Along with our protagonists, there’s at least one other key character involved, and how they all tie together to meet the antagonists’ goals is unclear to me. Maybe the bad guys are just being evil for the sake of being evil, or maybe I just need to watch the movie a few more times.
The picture quality on the disc showed too much softness for my tastes, but that’s more likely to the “guerrilla filmmaking” style, and not the DVD. The sound is perhaps not as dynamic as it could be, but it doesn’t show any flaws or distortions. There are unfortunately few extras, made up of text bios, text production notes, and the theatrical trailer.
This review is shorter than most, because I’ve taken pains to avoid revealing spoilers. You’re better off going into this one not knowing much about it, and then enjoying the ride. If you’re looking for an alternative to the same-old, same-old Hollywood product, make Experiment your next experiment.