The Holly Kane Experiment (2017)

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Directed by Tom Sands

Being a psychology lecturer by day, and horror reporter by night, I love it when these interests meet. Yet the science of the mind and behaviour is rarely portrayed positively in this genre. More often than not, my type tends to be manipulators, conmen and moustache-twiddlers. The Holly Kane Experiment has elements of this trope, with the plot leaning towards mind control. Yet this time there’s a difference, with a psychologist being both the protagonist and the villain.

Holly Kane (Averton) is an experimental psychologist, trying to master her own subconscious via the use of a floatation tank, subliminal messaging and enough drugs to get a whole nightclub bouncing. Terrified of lapsing into insanity, as her sister and mum did before, she routinely exposes herself to her voice telling her how rationale and in control she is (an entirely sane thing to do of course). However, things begin to unravel after she is recruited to help a patient in hospital manage their pain to bad results. A malpractice suit on her hand, and little hope for her research getting finded, Holly finds a saviour in the form of Marvin (Henson): an elderly legend in consciousness studies, particularly in her area, who wants to cover the costs of her trials. Yet his interest appears to be more than professional, and soon it seems he’s using her own methods to seduce her.

I say ‘soon’, although truly the film’s biggest problem is its pacing. Mick Sands’ (father of director Tom) script has strong characterisation, and some brilliant scenes where its key players ponder the themes such as obedience, free will and brainwashing. It’s a real state of the nation piece, that constructs a country of CCTV, paranoia and fear of terrorism. But even as someone who’s fascinated by the ideas being explored, I found myself all too impatiently checking the time throughout. Towards the end it picks up some slack, after the horror narrative awkwardly transitions into fast-paced thriller territory. Nonetheless, it can’t fully recover from a stilted second act that has too much ebb and flow – with the introspective scenes feeling laboured and the key beats consisting of delayed reveals you will likely have already worked out. Despite the actor’s charm, the romantic strand with conspiracy theorist Dennis (Rose) also feels drawn out at times – something that isn’t helped by the use of dramatic irony throughout. The smaller plot, with Jeannie and Marvin works for the most part, with some impressively cringe-inducing scenes, but in upping the scale its surprisingly literal presentation and stodgy script fails to do the excellent premise justice. Sure, there’s lots of intrigue and curiosity, but rarely much in the way of tension before the (admittedly satisfying) finale.

On the plus side, the depiction of Holly is not sentimental. She’s likeable enough, yet it’s rare to see a hero spend so much time giving her own services fake reviews and illegally sourcing drugs from her chemist friend Jeannie (Campbell). Averton does a great job with her meatier material, giving emotional stakes if not especially dramatic ones. Elsewhere, Henson is utterly believable as the sinister Marvin – an arresting performance that makes me wonder why I haven’t seen him in more things. Similarly, Matthew Neal is impressive as sharp faced henchman Carl, taking some risks with how close he gets to scenery chewing without bordering on campy. One scene involving nipples would seem somewhat ridiculous in the hands of a lesser cast member, but he sells it with a sense of intensity and menace.

The cinematography around London and Brighton is also exceptional, with Sands junior showing a natural eye for the city and the coast alike. Given that it was made on a low budget, it’s a real visual achievement. The framing is often perfect, with great location shots, and the eerie soundtrack whirring away throughout is suitably trippy and punchy. I just wish there’d been a bit less of it! Regardless, Sands is early in his career and, with just his second feature, shows tremendous potential as a filmmaker. Father and son are now working on one called Three Acts – if they can sort out some of the structural concerns this time around it may be something special.

Rating: ★★★½☆

For news on the film, visit the official site

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About david.s.smith 450 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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