5-Word At EIFF 2012 – Guinea Pigs

Today was another quiet day as the fest starts winding down. I only made it to one screening today, along with the annual press and industry pub quiz. The team of me, Ben Pascoe (director of Leave It On The Track) and a handful of Edinburgh’s more talented film students managed not to shame ourselves, coming away with the prize (booze) for Best Team Name. I’m not printing it here though; this is a family establishment.

Guinea Pigs

Good, but could be better.

Eight volunteers turn up at an isolated clinic for a two-week drug trial. Unfortunately for them, the drug turns out to have rather more serious side effects than they anticipated. With everyone succumbing in turn, will any of them live to see the morning?

Watching Guinea Pigs is like getting an STI test from the doctor; the needle might hurt a bit, but it is kind of pleasurable at the same time*. Our bunch of test subjects cover all the bases: young and old; male and female; newbies and seasoned pros. Watching each succumb to initially fear, then paranoia, followed by an outright psychotic break is the main selling point of Ian Clark’s screenplay. The writer-director has assembled a tip-top cast to play his titular small, furry mammals from rising Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard to Loach veteran Steve Evets (Waiting For Eric). Unfortunately they are let down by a predictable script and a secondary outbreak of idiocy; like when Evets’ old hand Morty suggests a reasonable plan to deal with what’s happening, only for that plan to be completely forgotten about five minutes later or – and this one is my favourite – when Katie the journalist, played by Nia Roberts, goes on a stealth mission to retrieve a radio and decides to start taking pictures of a dead body with her loud camera and very visible flash. Moron.

On the technical side, Clark uses the limited geography of the clinic to good effect, with the sealed-off building working like the Nostromo, or the Antarctic base from Carpenter’s The Thing: the isolation heightens the sense that there is no help coming. Whatever is happening here, these people are going to have to deal with it themselves. Clark also shoots almost the entire film without any score. The soundtrack of the movie is mostly made up of the screams of agony and pain and fear that echo throughout the complex while most of the really nasty happenings are taking place off screen or hinted at in grainy security monitors. Guinea Pigs has the potential to be another minor classic in the intelligently daft British horror canon. It is just a shame that the ratio of likeable to annoying characters weighs more heavily on the dickish side, and such ideas as basic logic are tossed out as soon as the shit hits the fan.

For all that though, the movie is still kind of fun and is anchored by a charming yet sleazy turn by Evets. For a first feature, it shows that Clark is a talent to watch even if he doesn’t quite nail it with his first try. You’ll have to forgive me as I cut this a bit short today. Frankly I’m amazed I’ve written this much considering the time (almost 4am) and tonight’s alcohol consumption (varied and lots).

You want to be careful with that broken pool cue, mate. Might get a splinter.

Guinea Pigs has already had both scheduled EIFF screenings, but is getting a third this Sunday as part of the Best of the Fest event for the final day. There is no confirmed general release date yet.

*Copyright Ben Sharrock, 2012.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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