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Literature / Experimental Film

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Experimental Film is a 2015 novel by Gemma Files.

Former film teacher, critic, and amateur historian Lois Cairns discovers evidence that Mrs. Iris Dunlopp Whitcomb, a reclusive spiritualist and collector of fairy tales who mysteriously disappeared during a train journey in 1914, was also a filmmaker. As Lois investigates, she unwittingly invites the forces that haunt Mrs. Whitcomb's films into her life, endangering herself, her husband Simon Burlingame, and their autistic son Clark.

Experimental Film contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Most of the book takes place in late 2014, but the epilogue takes place at least five years later.
  • Above Good and Evil: Safie describes the Yezidi Peacock Angel as "beyond good and evil," as those are human concepts and he's an angel.
  • Age Without Youth: Ever since Sidlo drew Lady Midday's attention by extracting Mrs. Whitcomb's memory, she's been keeping him alive. He's over a hundred years old now, and unable to die even though he wants to. He even quotes "Tithonus."
  • Applied Phlebotinum: A rare example of a real-life material being used this way: silver nitrate film (which really is just as unstable and prone to destructive, toxic combustion as described) appears to be a required element in the process of summoning Lady Midday into the world.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Despite being a practicing Catholic who admits to believing in the supernatural, Simon has a great deal of trouble accepting Lois's theory about what's happening because he can't make sense of it.
    Simon: All this stuff, though... it's contradictory, paradoxical. There's no logic to it.
  • Blind Seer: Vasek Sidlo, a blind man with the ability to extract people's memories and record them on film.
  • Burying a Substitute: After Mrs. Whitcomb's mentally disabled son Hyatt went missing, an empty coffin bearing his name was buried in the family crypt.
  • Can't See a Damn Thing: Giscelia was blinded for some time after her encounter with Lady Midday as a child. Lois is almost completely blinded after Sidlo helps her connect to Mrs. Whitcomb and Lady Midday, and because she refuses to do Lady Midday's work, this time it sticks - she is expected to be legally blind for the rest of her life, although her vision slowly improves over the years.
  • Chronic Self-Deprecation: Lois has serious self-esteem issues, though she improves by the end of the story.
  • Commonality Connection: Lois feels a connection with her former student, Safie Hewsen, because they both suffered from vivid nightmares about terrifying angels as children.
  • Concealing Canvas: Hyatt kicked loose a panel in the wall next to his crib, revealing a ladder-way built to make it easier to clean the flue. He tacked up a bunch of sketches to hide it so he could come and go as he pleased during the night. His mother never found out until after his disappearance.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Lady Midday offers Lois whatever she wants for herself and her family, most notably a cure for Clark's autism, if she'll worship Lady Midday and do Her work. Lois angrily refuses, saying that the cured Clark would just be a fake and not her real child, and that she won't help Lady Midday hurt and kill others in exchange for that. Lady Midday is about to cut off Lois's head, but she is saved by Wrob, who knocks her aside begging Lady Midday to choose him as Her servant instead. Lady Midday cuts off his head and vanishes.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The book presents itself as a nonfiction book written by Lois.
  • Domestic Abuse: Wrob always starts out as a doting, caring boyfriend...until he steals from you, manipulates you into committing crimes for him, or, if god forbid you dare to have your own achievements that outshine his, burns down your entire life. (Literally, in one case; although it was never officially proven, his ex's business and home burning down coincided closely and suspiciously with said ex's career starting to overtake Wrob's.)
  • Driven by Envy: How Lois explains Wrob's ongoing attempts to screw up her project researching Mrs. Whitcomb, since Lois originally found out about Mrs. Whitcomb from seeing one of Wrob's films and then interviewing him. The ending and epilogue reveals that this may be more true than even Lois realizes — Wrob turns out to have been the student, mentioned in passing earlier, who spent a night trapped in the abandoned Whitcomb mansion the "Vinegar House", and his final words to Lady Midday strongly imply that he expected to be the one she chose as her new filmmaker/prophet.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Lois's mother, Lee, became an alcoholic to deal with her failed marriage.
  • The End Is Nigh: Mrs. Whitcomb was born Giscelia Wr√≤bl, the daughter of a farmer who let all his animals go, burned his crops, and led his family into the remains of the field, where they spent two weeks waiting for the End. Nine-year-old Giscelia was the Sole Survivor, with the rest of her family either dying of privation or being beaten to death by the father.
  • The Faceless: After Hyatt's disappearance, Mrs. Whitcomb spent the rest of her life in mourning outfits that covered her entire body. One theory for her disappearance is that she removed her veil before exiting the train with the other passengers; she hadn't shown her face in public in years, so no one would have recognized her.
  • Finally Found the Body: Mrs. Whitcomb and Hyatt's skeletons show up after Lois's confrontation with Lady Midday.
  • Fingore: When Lois is crawling on her hands and knees during the fire at Ursulines Studio, a man steps on her hand, breaking a finger. She keeps crawling on one hand.
  • Forbidden Love: Safie's great-grandparents were a Yezidi man and a Christian woman who moved from Armenia to Canada because of their families' disapproval, allowing them to avoid the Armenian Genocide.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Two cops use a relatively mild version of this routine when they interrogate Lois about Sidlo's death.
  • Haunted House: A relatively understated example in Whitcomb Manor, the "Vinegar House"; the only eerie urban legends reported of the site are stories of a persisent, inexplicable foul smell (from which the nickname came) and the odd tendency of teen trespassers never to leave their own graffiti. Lois nonetheless has an encounter there with what turns out to be the ghost of Iris Whitcomb, although it appears only to be a seizure at the time.
  • Haunted Technology: The psychic Vasek Sidlo is capable of embedding the memories of another person into silver nitrate film as a series of images; if the subject of this process is someone "touched", directly or indirectly, by Lady Midday, the film creates a doorway for Lady Midday to enter the world when played by someone so marked. A cellphone video taken by Lois at the Vinegar House also turns out to contain a subliminally embedded message from the ghost of Iris Whitcomb.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted, both intentionally and unintentionally — Lois and Safie give Simon the slip to go face Lady Midday at the site of Her final summoning without him, precisely to prevent Simon doing this to save Lois. However, despite Lois fully expecting to die herself as the price of refusing the goddess, she winds up being accidentally saved by Wrob.
  • How Dad Met Mom: Lois's parents met at theatre school. She was seventeen. He was a twenty-four-year-old draft-dodger from Australia. They married five years later, had Lois two years after that, and divorced seven years after that.
  • Human Sacrifice: One of the stories collected by Mrs. Whitcomb features "heretics" who cut their old and young into pieces at the end of each harvest, then put them into pots with candles in them to feed them to She Who Gives All.
  • The Illegible: Filmmaker Wrob Barney's handwriting is extremely hard to read, which isn't helped by what he calls uncontrollable hypographic pornocentrism, meaning a tendency to make sex-related misspellings.
  • The Insomniac: Sidlo hasn't slept more than two or three hours a night since extracting Mrs. Whitcomb's memory of Lady Midday. He feels the noonday sun even at midnight.
  • It Runs in the Family: Lois realizes that she has all the symptoms of Asperger syndrome, which manifested as more severe autism in Clark.
    Lois: Don't you see? This is why this happened. Because I'm just like him, except it's all on the inside.
  • It's All My Fault: Lois blames herself for Lady Midday's interest in Clark because she kept researching Mrs. Whitcomb, despite Mrs. Whitcomb's ghost attempting to warn her away.
  • Kill It with Fire: Thanks to Sidlo, Lois has a video of Lady Midday trapped in a reel of film. She plans to burn the film without watching it to kill Lady Midday; unfortunately, Wrob steals the film in order to turn it into one of his art films, resulting in a fire that kills thirteen people when he tries to screen it.
  • My Nayme Is: Wrob added the W while he was in high school to distinguish himself from his older siblings Richard, Robin, and Reid.
  • Not So Stoic: When Lois finally tells Simon her theory about the supernatural causes of both her own illness and Clark's, Simon loses his temper and snaps at both her and Safie in a highly uncharacteristic moment.
  • Off with His Head!: Lady Midday appears to laborers at exactly noon, and decapitates anyone who isn't perfectly respectful.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Clark almost never makes eye contact, which is why Lois is alarmed when he looks right at her as he begs her not to go to the Lake of the North area because "the lady in the bag" said so.
  • Potty Failure: Clark wakes up crying; when Lois and Simon reach his room, he's wet himself.
  • "Rediscovering Roots" Trip: Mrs. Whitcomb once went on a trip to the Wendish territories, where her father's family came from. It turned out to be a mistake - she drew the attention of Lady Midday, and because, unbeknownst to her, she was four months pregnant at the time, Lady Midday claimed the unborn Hyatt as her own.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: Come on, Lois and Clark?
  • Spanner in the Works: Lady Midday's first attempt to re-enter the world fails because of this: When Iris Whitcomb summons the goddess aboard a train travelling to Toronto by playing the silver nitrate film containing her memories of Lady Midday, she discovers too late that the goddess has already killed her son Hyatt and now plans to possess Iris as Her new high priestess. It's only sheer luck that this particular train car is one which still uses gas lamps rather than electric lights; Iris is thus able to grab a convenient match and set the film on fire, thwarting Lady Midday at the cost of her own life.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: Clark speaks entirely in echolalia, largely taken from movies, cartoons, and songs.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Simon never personally sees or encounters anything undeniably supernatural and is initially highly skeptical of Lois's claims about what's happening; unlike most examples, however, he is at least willing to support Lois in her investigations, and ultimately accepts that something beyond the mundane is going on. Mrs. Whitcomb's husband Arthur is likewise dismissive of his wife's supernatural explanations for their troubles, but in the end he leaves her and goes back to Europe because of it.
  • "Untitled" Title: Wrob's films are all Untitled with a number. His latest is Untitled 13.
  • The 'Verse: Takes place in not only the same universe but the same small art scene as the short story "each thing i show you is a piece of my death", which chronicles the spread of a mysterious and sinister figure called the Background Man through even already-finished big-budget films. One of the main characters of the story, Soraya, appears in the book as a side character working on an audio-only installation with Safie, and tries to warn Safie away from working with Lois because her experience with the Background Man made her wise to this sort of thing. It also shares a universe with We Will All Go Down Together—the town Wrob is from, Overdeere, is the nexus of the Five-Family Coven mess (he also claims to be related to one of said five families, but probably spuriously).
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Clark throws up directly on Lois when the ghost of Mrs. Whitcomb deliberately makes him ill in a final desperate effort to put Lois off her investigations; the result is described as "absolutely horrifying—it had a greenish-black consistency, like dirt and rotting tubers".