Monday, August 1, 2016

yes, yes and yes: Experimental Film, by Gemma Files

Chizine Publications, 2015
305 pp


I've just read my favorite modern horror novel of the year thus far,  and that is Gemma Files' Experimental Film.  Not only is it a book that pushed every single one of my horror-loving buttons, it is also a story very well told, one that grabbed my attention on the second page of chapter one and didn't let up, not for one instant.  And it was done without tentacles, walking dead, or splatter, although, as the main character of this story reveals more than once, there are most certainly cosmic forces at work in this tale:
"...the world is full of holes behind which numinous presences lurk -- secrets no one should ever have to see, or want to. And those who do will never be the same."  
In downtown Toronto, Lois Cairns is on hand to review the newest ten-minute offering of film maker Wrob Barney, a guy who "rubbed a lot of people the wrong way."  She's seen his "collage art" movies before, so she's pretty much ready for anything. However, this time things are a bit different -- a certain bit of imagery in Barney's Untitled 13 sparks some memory in Lois, unsettling her and reminding her of "something, ... Not a movie."  It takes her a while but she eventually finds what that "something" is -- a particular story written by a Mrs. A. Macalla Whitcomb, originally printed in a collection of "Wendish Legends and Folklore."  She studies this story "line by line,"
"... seeing almost every phrase of it reflected in my memories of Wrob Barney's Untitled 13..."
Already "disturbed" with what she saw in the film, now she's even more so.  She knows that the "best parts" of Barney's work have always been "stolen from somebody else," so she's curious about that particular bit of imagery and where it may have come from.  A little research reveals the origins of  the clips, setting Lois on a path of discovery that she hopes will eventually become a much-needed project of her own that will connect the writer of the original stories with those bits of film.  What she doesn't realize as she begins is that  a) there are those who aren't at all happy about what she's doing and b) that her work will eventually have major implications that will move well beyond the realm of the cinematic world.

And that is where I'll leave things because to tell is to certainly spoil in this case, and well, that would just be a shame for potential readers.

silver nitrate film clip, from "Nitrate Nocturne 2," at 50 Watts

Not only is the haunting story here an absolute hackle raiser that had me flip flip flipping pages,  there are also a LOT of interesting things going on here outside of the creepy elements.  There are Lois' experiences as the mother of an autistic child, the novel's focus on films, on writing, on art in general and much, much more. After reading about the author just briefly, it seems that she's pouring out parts of her own story into these pages, something that when done well tends to augment an author's work, and here it brings an added layer of life to this book.  I loved one line in particular where she says that
"doing your art -- your work -- can help you save your own life," 
and that idea most certainly comes across in this book.

There are a number of excellent professional reviewers of this novel out there who do so much more than I can in talking about this book, but as a plain old reader person, I'll just say that this book is definitely one any horror novel lover should have on his/her shelves.  While it's probably on the tame side for a lot of readers in this genre, it has everything that I could possibly want.  Considering it's a modern novel and given how much I prefer works from the past,  well, that says a lot.

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