“It is always midday somewhere in the world…both day and night.”
Experimental Film by Gemma Files is the story of Lois Cairns, a film critic who attends a screening of experimental films where she sees pieces of a film she believes to have been created by socialite and spiritualist, Iris Whitcomb, who had disappeared under mysterious circumstances, the existence of which would solidify her as one of Canada’s first women filmmakers. Following the trail of this footage, Lois and her assistant Safie (along with Lois’ husband and their autistic son Clark) are drawn deeper into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Mrs. Whitcomb and the tragedies that surrounded her life. Steeped in the ancient folkloric tradition of Lady Midday, Lois comes to the horrifying realization that she and Mrs. Whitcomb have more in common than she ever could have imagined.
Experimental Film was the winner of the Shirley Jackson Award in 2015 and is often cited on top horror novel lists by fans and critics, so I am in the minority because I really didn’t enjoy this book. The novel is obviously meticulously researched, the level of detail chronicling Canadian film history and indigenous and European folkloric traditions is incredibly thorough, but rather than immersing me in the layers of the story, I found the details boring and wanted to skip ahead to the “good parts” (bring on the scary stuff! Spoiler alert, there is no scary stuff).
Multiple pages describing images being shown on film (experimental, nonlinear film at that) is akin to reading about someone’s dreams and is not something that I personally enjoy. Moreover, this book was very confusing to follow; perhaps that was on purpose- the author’s way of emulating Lois’s growing disorientation as she delves deeper into the legend that consumed Mrs. Whitcomb?- but for me there were multiple times I almost abandoned the book because I was losing interest trying to connect the dots. At the tail end of the book Lois says “this is taking too long to tell. Longer than it took to happen, by far” and that is how I felt reading this book.
Perhaps it would have worked better for me as a short novella as it took me a few weeks to read because I was never excited to pick it up. However, if film studies and folklore is your cup of coffee, read this at Tim Horton’s at midday.
Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: ChiZine Publications
Experimental Film is available for purchase on Amazon