[Book Review] Experimental Film (Gemma Files, 2015) ★★★★★

book cover Experimental Film by Gemma Files 2015

Experimental Film turns written words into a spine-chilling arthouse movie. 

Experimental Film is a supernatural weird fiction horror story that mixes the words in a book with visual images that form in your mind straight out of a documentary film. It is a highly original book, due to the creative and imaginative tale but also due to the very surreal and creative writing style that will bring terrifying pictures into your mind. 

The concept of film, visual images, perception and social acceptance are combined with a frightening tale of folklore and the supernatural forcing its way into the real world. Life imitates art and vice versa, making it hard to discern what is real and what is fiction and if indeed there is a difference. It’s a very disturbing, creepy tale that creeps under your skin and will terrify you for sure. 


Lois Cairns is a former reviewer of films and former teacher at the academy of film, but is currently without work and trapped in a state of depression. Her son Clark is diagnosed with autism and she herself probably falls within the spectrum. While her husband Simon does everything he can, her mother Lee is not that helpful.

But when Lois is invited to a film screening by rival Wrob Barney, she is on to something special; the old tale of Lady Midday documented by Iris Whitcomb. She now thinks that Wrob has stolen an old film, originally made by Iris and she sees it as her new project to uncover the theft and the story of Iris.

With the help of Jan Mattheuis and his film fund and Safie her former student she wants to make a documentary about Iris and the tale of Lady Midday. But the closer she gets, the more the tale seeps through into her own personal life, which makes her either crazy or there might be some truth to the folkloristic tale. 

Why you should read it

If you like weird fiction and old folklore then this is the story for you. It is very stylishly written but it does take a while to get used to the specific tone and voice of the story of the author and that of the unconventional character of Lois. 

Lois is an emotional unstable person and because the story is told by her, we experience everything through her eyes and perspective. It makes her an unreliable narrator and for quite a while is unclear if it is all in her head or if there is something strange going on that has everything to do with Iris and Lady Midday. While her life shows many similarities with the life of Iris, it’s very believable that Lois lets herself get carried away in her own project, wanting it to be something special or real even to revenge herself for the personal feud with Wrob.

Her character reflects the writing style. It’s chaotic in the beginning, some frustration is uttered, it’s not chronologically told and we get overwhelmed with all sorts of information about Canadian filmmaking, experimental films, autism and everything that is important in Lois’ life. Although it might be hard to read and it makes it more difficult to get involved into the story, it symbolizes Lois and it sets the tone of her personality. We get to know her instantly, with all her traits, qualities, concerns and flaws and it makes her all the more real. 

Once the introduction is made with the unconventional Lois, the story lifts off. It is written like a film in two acts. The first one introduces Lois and the story of Lady Midday and Iris. The second act is the real story. Gemma Files makes use of different techniques to let the story come to life like an unedited film. It’s subjective, some conversations are literally written down, there’s speculation, images, hearsay and other techniques that make the story somewhat chaotic but very interesting and intriguing, like it is all playing out for real and unfiltered. It also still reflects Lois’ character, which makes the story very consistent actually. 

We learn more about Lady Midday through Lois’ research and field trips which makes it very realistic. Making the weird fiction and horror and supernatural all the more scarier. Let’s not forget, although it has a very unique voice and tone and an odd character, it also is a great terrifying horror story, that builds upon folklore, that seeps through into the real world, resulting in a horrifying finale. The subtle horror however creeps upon you, small things, like shadows forming into your head, slowly forming a figure, and the more you think about it, the more real it becomes. Like the negative of a film that develops into a real image until it’s fully realized. 

This horror is written through and about perception. It’s all about perception. How Lois herself is perceived but also her son Clark. It’s socially defined what is acceptable or normal behavior, which is in fact highly subjective and is based on strong cultural values, like folklore itself is. 

Experimental Film results in a very experimental and creative book with an unconventional heroine that mixes weird fiction with real social issues. It’s terrifying, it’s smart but it’s also very entertaining and scares the hell to of you. 

My favorite part

The transformation of Lois is very organic and realistic and reflects in the writing and how the story develops. It can be overwhelming at first, but you must follow through for your reward is a strong creepy story that will stick with you. Lois will grow on you and you will respect her more and more up till the splendid finale that gives the readers what they craved for. 

Lady Midday is elusive but very frightening and her image is so well-written that it will give you scares in the dark and even in broad daylight. It truly is a terrifying tale that is amazingly told. It all fits together brilliantly and that is what makes this a great book, turning all the different elements into one compelling tale. 

A favorite quote

What’s inside the frame versus what’s outside; what’s actually shown versus what’s only told.’

Because stories lie hidden inside other stories, and we know always more about any given thing than we think we do, even if the only thing we think we know is nothing.’


Rating: ★★★★★

Scare factor: ★★★★☆

Surreal factor: ★★★★★

Originality factor: ★★★★★


Experimental Film is written by Gemma Files and first published by ChiZine Publications in 2015. It consists of 305 pages. 

book cover Experimental Film by Gemma Files 2015

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