Today: June 22, 2024

The Facility

Tapping into most people’s primal fear of hospitals, The Facility shuns the more fanciful horror trappings, and places us in a readily identifiable setting. But if the setting is readily identifiable, the context is somewhat less so. The Facility tells the story of seven human guinea pigs, who – in exchange for a meagre £2000 payment  – have volunteered to test a drug known only as Pro9, as part of a ProSyntrex Pharmaceuticals double-blind clinical trial. And what’s more disconcerting than an already deathly-white hospital setting? Well, being injected by an unknown, potentially hazardous substance, one might wager.

Fittingly, then, the Limebrook Medical Clinic (where The Facility‘s drug trial takes place), feels eerily remote and dislocated from the world, even on first glance – feeling very much like the hospital equivalent of the Overlook Hotel. And it’s certainly no failing on Clark‘s part that The Facility begins by playing on the same restless foreboding that Kubrick exploited to such great effect in The Shining.

But while Kubrick had at least one foot in the supernatural camp, Clark never allows his gaze to drop – positioning The Facility in an entirely real-world setting, and never once flirting with any kind of otherworldliness. Though at times, this is The Facility‘s greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness.

Watching the effects of Pro9 spread like an inexorable virus, in a night of paranoia, insanity and terror is horrifically satisfying. But as The Facility develops, the film’s progression can’t help but feel slightly too predictable. Despite Pro9’s gruesome side effects, the drug doesn’t turn testers into literal monsters; and there is little in the way of conspiracy or foul play regarding the drug’s intended usage. ProSyntrex’s denial and consequent detachment from the trial as things go awry is chilling. But they are largely too anonymous and disconnected from the narrative. And this leaves The Facility searching for a face to attach to this evil.

Conversely, The Facility also finds itself in search of a conventional hero. Only Joni (Alex Reid), and to a lesser extent, Adam (Aneurin Barnard) are particularly charismatic, and while Clark’s conceit isn’t perhaps conducive for enormous character development, the lack of a bona fide hero – compounded by the facelessness of ProSyntrex at the opposite end of the spectrum – leaves a slightly murky line between good and evil; and confusion as to who to really root for.

Yet in spite of such issues, The Facility succeeds in providing a more than adequate dose of queasy, anxious thrills. The ominous, slow-burning tension billows like fog into the clinic from the moment we arrive, and manages to keep us firmly under its spell until Pro9 has taken its toll. While The Facility might lack the ‘staged’ nightmarishness of other horror films, it’s the sheer believability of Clark’s film that separates it from its peers. With the most haunting footnote of all, being the notable similarity between some of Pro9’s side effects, and the terrifying, real life ‘Elephant Man’ TGN 1412 drug trial that took place in 2006.

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June 2013 at BFI Southbank

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