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Simon Read [Film Festival 07.24.12] United Kingdom scifi horror

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Ian Clark's low-budget old-school horror debut sees eight volunteers from various backgrounds signing up for medical testing at a shady clinic in the English countryside and getting far more than they bargained for in the process. It's a nice little horror flick that, while containing nothing particularly original, does act as a showcase for some new talent and handles familiar material in a perfectly agreeable and entertaining fashion over a nice and short 80 minute running time. All in all it gets a thumbs-up and a recommendation for anyone seeking some cool indie horror from the UK.

We begin with a young man named Adam getting lost on the back roads leading to the Limebrook Clinic before arriving and meeting his fellow test subjects, a rag-tag mix of the bored and the desperate as well as a couple of pros who make a living from the money they receive as professional guinea pigs from the corporation. Amongst the crew are Jed, an asshole estate agent and fitness freak who eyes the girls and relishes the mixed-sex close quarters, Carmen, a ditsy blonde with an IQ in the single digits, Arif, who's in it for the money and the sooner he gets paid the better and Katie, a freelance journalist looking for a story. These are the newbies, but Joni and Morty are old hands at this game and seem at home in the sterile environment. Joni is looking for a quick pay-check too, but Derek is an old hippy who likes the attention from the female nurse and has enough experience to run a pharmacy. Adam is our eyes and ears as the 'hero' type, somewhat mysterious (or maybe just simple?) in his intentions but basically the resident nice guy. The gang are briefed by a sleazy Carter Burke type in a suit and soon settle down in their ward, where Katie takes photos and searches for signs of a scoop, and Jed starts showing off and acting like a cheerful, macho twat. It's here we get a bit of character development and some time to relax before the inevitable fireworks begin.

Films like this are easy enough to second guess from their basic set-up, but it's what happens when the horror starts to unfold that's important, and with Guinea Pigs the usual fracas takes place after the drugs begin to take hold, and the subjects start to suffer from similar side effects to those seen in The Crazies or 28 Days..., (with symptoms somewhere in-between). The film actually reminded me most of Cronenberg's early shocker 'Shivers', not just for the rough edges and micro-budget, but as the clinic itself takes on a role similar to the apartment complex from that film, complete with hapless security guards, shrugging panicky doctors and cowardly corporate stooges - always with the chance of freedom just through the impenetrable shatter-proof windows. What makes Guinea Pigs work as most than just another homage from a graduate director are game performances from the supporting cast who play it straight, especially familiar faces like palindromic character actor Steve Evets (Looking for Eric) as Morty, and Jack Doolan (Cemetery Junction) as Toby. The biggest let down is its most obvious flaw and that is that there really isn't anywhere new the film can take us, and nothing that we haven't already seen. Couple this with a fairly dull lead performance from Aneurin Barnard (Iron Clad, Hunky Dory) as Adam, and the film isn't that much to write home about, even although it passes the time well enough.

I'm giving some backhanded compliments and damning the film with some faint praise, but the truth is that while a seasoned horror fan will find little new here, an all-around film fan will appreciate the level of skill that's brought to its crafting - the performances, the pacing and the scares are all executed with a degree of flair and professionalism not seen in such woeful disasters as 'Shrooms' or 'Quarantine 2', and for that I was (very) grateful and look forward to more from these filmmakers. Give this one a shot and you might just find yourself getting caught-up in the mayhem.

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