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Experimental Film

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  1,592 ratings  ·  301 reviews
Experimental Film is a contemporary ghost story in which former Canadian film history teacher Lois Cairns-jobless and depressed in the wake of her son's autism diagnosis-accidentally discovers the existence of lost early 20th century Ontario filmmaker Mrs. A. Macalla Whitcomb. By deciding to investigate how Mrs. Whitcomb's obsessions might have led to her mysterious disapp ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published December 3rd 2015 by ChiZine Publications
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Beastnessa I'm two-thirds through it and while it has a similar premise, I would say this book contains more psychological (and supernatural) horror than Night F…moreI'm two-thirds through it and while it has a similar premise, I would say this book contains more psychological (and supernatural) horror than Night Film, which to me felt more like a mystery or thriller that happened to be about a horror filmmaker. It reminds me more of something like The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan than Night Film. I haven't read Flicker so can't speak to that one.(less)
Alex Looks like you've read Shirley Jackson's two big novels, but you could consider some of her short fiction which is just as masterfully crafted. The Lo…moreLooks like you've read Shirley Jackson's two big novels, but you could consider some of her short fiction which is just as masterfully crafted. The Lottery and Other Stories is probably the best place to start there. You might also consider A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay.(less)

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Janie C.
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I know that some readers will pass this book by, claiming that they don't read ghost stories. I am here to assure you that this story is so much more than a simple supernatural tale. It challenges our belief systems, and forces us to look at things that were not meant to be seen. It is rich in history, legend and characters, with a compelling plot that draws us into its secrets. As the story progresses, we become the main character, seeking to unveil the truth and discovering the ties that bind. ...more
Chris Berko
Apr 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow...all I really can say is wow. I have highlighted more passages in this than all the other books I've read combined, with the exception of Infinite Jest, I practically highlighted that whole book. I know I am prone to hyperbole and I pass out a lot of five star reviews (I cant help it, I Iove books) but this is one amazing piece of literature. She writes what is in my head, her comparing her fuckedupedness to her sons fuckedupedness put words to my thoughts and feelings. I also happen to lov ...more
Nancy Oakes
Jul 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who likes splatterless, quality horror
Shelves: horror
Verdict: Simply excellent.

Not only is Experimental Files a book that pushed every single one of my horror-loving buttons, it is also a story very well told, one that grabbed my attention on the second page of chapter one and didn't let up, not for one instant. And it was done without tentacles, walking dead, or splatter, although, as the main character of this story reveals more than once, there are most certainly cosmic forces at work in this tale:

"...the world is full of holes behind which n
Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, horror, owned
Outstanding creep novel of a higher type. We still have cosmic forces trying to worm their way into our universe via... Well, that would be telling. Leave it to say that hapless (by her own estimation) film critic Lois Cairns's life takes a turn for the even worse when she becomes obsessed with documenting the life of a little known pioneer of cinema (not just Canada here, we're talking world); a thing she feels may make her career again. Everyone seems bent on derailing her project or stealing ...more
Pamela ✨I Blame Wizards✨
Experimental Film shows first-hand how a first-class concept isn’t enough to carry a novel.  Gemma Files is incredibly knowledgeable about film, and it certainly shows.  I was not at all surprised to find out she was a film critic and screenwriter in Canada.  But it does mean that she falls into the trap of writers with specialisations like this; going into far too much unnecessary, incidental and boring detail about the way the industry works that they lose sight of the plot, or what makes a st ...more
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I just realized that this is the second book by a Canadian author that takes place in Canada that I've read this month. Coincidence? Yep. But it makes me want to read more from Canadian writers. Both books are at the top of my favorites list for this year.

I'm sincerely stressed about writing this review and doing the book justice without giving away anything that isn't on the blurb. If you look at the back of the book, that's quite a long synopsis, and yet the book still keeps its most interesti
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
A former Canadian film history teacher, investigates a decades old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a ground breaking experimental film maker. The secret to her disappearance lies in the content and meaning contained in her films. Lois Cairns is going to have to put it all on the line to unravel the ghosts of the past and find out the truth about what really happened back in the day. That is if it doesn’t kill her and her family first.

I am not sure this will be everyone’s cuppa. It was
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-books, read-2016
5 Stars

Experimental Film by Gemma Files is similar to it's name a work of experimental fiction. This is a horror novel. A pseudo documentary. A psychological thriller. It is an ode to the masters of horror fiction and horror movies movies. I loved this book. I was already familiar with Gemma Files and I am a fan. This story is a masterfully crafted work of art.

Files does an amazing job at defining experimental film making while at the same time throwing us deep into this horror story that is fi
Paul Roberts
Aug 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
A slow burn through most of the first act, File's navigation of the Canadian film industry deftly illustrates the political/bureaucratic mess here in the True North. Toronto pitch rooms are for CFC darlings only, and even THEY have the damnedest time getting their films made. But I digress. Gemma's treatment of mythology throughout Experimental Film is expertly rendered and sublime. The greatest strength of her (possibly Catholic-soaked and autobiographical) narrative is often what she keeps jus ...more
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've known Gemma File's work for a while now. In fact, we were "TOC Mates" in A Clockwork Phoenix #2. I believe that her outstanding story in that volume, "each thing i show you is a piece of my death" served as a springboard to Experimental Film. Both are dark tales dealing with cinema, a subject on which Files is, obviously, an expert.

Truth be told, this is the first book I have ever pre-ordered before the book was even finished. Yes, it took me a while to get around to reading it (go look at
Thomas Wagner
Nov 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
To most people, movies are disposable pieces of entertainment, there for you to while away some lazy weekend hours. But to those who are captivated not only by the medium’s marriage of art and technology, but its fascinating early history, film is the closest thing we have to a time machine, to a window into another world forever lost. Do a YouTube search for “oldest film footage ever,” and you’ll find yourself peering, even if only for 2 or 3 seconds, directly a dozen decades into the past. As ...more
Eddie Generous
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Unnerving Magazine Review
I’m sitting here attempting to start with the negative aspects to get them out of the way, so I can cover all the wonderful points of this story without a nagging sensation, but I’m stuck. It’s fantastic. As the Sharp Cereal Professor said, ‘Nope, nothing wrong here.’
From the beginning, the author delves in the rare, unabashedly Southern Ontarian landscape which immediately hits on personal notes of intrigue. I know many of these landmarks and I’ve spent years in the are
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Think The Ring + The Curse (another Japanese horror flick icydk) + Begotten (a crazy German... experimental film) + The Blair Witch Project.

One of the best horror novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading. A great mix of film history/technology and Slavic folklore. So glad I went ahead and bought this with Files' other book "We Will All Go Down Together" because this is slow-burn horror at its finest.

Jan 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Not really sure how to review this. It started veeeeeery slowly, but eventually drew me in. The main character, Lois, is the kind of cranky bitch who makes me grind my teeth, but maybe that's the point. I liked most of the characterizations, even if I didn't love the characters themselves. For some reason I found the deep immersion in the Canadian arts scene somewhat off-putting. Ummmmm, I guess I'd have rather read Soraya's story (which I think is covered in another of the author's works?), or ...more
I did not finish this book. my loan expired and I didn't care enough to extend it. the ghost story part is great but the film talk isn't. maybe i'll return to it someday.
Experimental Film is a sprawling novel of weird, cosmic horror, but it kicks off as an intriguing historical mystery. Lois Cairns is a journalist and former film professor who believes she's stumbled on a discovery that will change history: Iris Whitcomb, a wealthy spiritualist who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the late 19th century, may have been Canada's first female filmmaker, her experiments in special effects predating even Georges Méliès. The initial revelation comes by way ...more
Bryan Alexander
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gothic, film
I read Gemma Files' 2015 Experimental Film as part of my ongoing quest to find the best 21st-century horror novel. And I was very pleased.

Briefly, without spoilers, the plot concerns the discovery of a previously unknown movie, shot during the silent era by an unusual, haunted creator. Our narrator, a film scholar, obsesses over this work, only to find it connected to a terrifying force.

There is so much to like in Experimental Film, starting with that terrifying entity, which is a compelling and
Baal Of
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was slow-burning, atmospheric, and subtly creepy. On top of that, it was beautifully written, using framing concepts from film in the story itself. Initially I was worried that since the story deals with a child character on the autistic spectrum, that it might be one of those books that presents some kind of candy-coated nonsense about how wonderful a special needs child is, or that it would devolve into some Indigo Child bullshit, but instead Gemma Files presented a stunningly honest ...more
Dec 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
You know how 1% of experimental films are brilliant and 99% are pretentious, self-important crap loaded with obscure references to make them seem deeper and more complex than they are?

Ms. Files' novel is perfectly named.
Stephanie (That's What She Read)
There was a lot of things this did right. There was immeidate atmosphere. I was hooked. I was all-in on the Canadian film studies. Lois was unlikable character in a great way. It lost a little steam in the middle with the heavy exposition, but even with that I thought it was fantastic overall.
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As brilliant a new novel Canadian or otherwise as I've read in a long time, Experimental Film is also a dandy horror novel. It's an almost perfect expression of the sort of documentary approach to horror that H.P. Lovecraft codified. It's also a moving character study of its narrator and her troubled relationships with pretty much everyone in her life, but most notably her young, autistic son.

Lois Cairns has lost her regular jobs as both a film journalist and as a teacher of film at a Toronto di
Read all my reviews on

Are you familiar with obscure experimental Canadian film? Yeah, me neither.

I really hate to say this, but the story just couldn't keep my interest. At first their is a lot about Canadian film, which probably is interesting if a) you know something about it and b) it doesn't turn out to be completely fictional. The second part is a ghost story, based on an old European myth, which was more interesting but I felt it was still lacking some
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Every accolade you’ve heard about this novel is true. It was my favorite novel, read in 2015. If you are a fan of Roszak’s FLICKER, as I am, do yourself a favor and do not miss this brilliant novel.
Jan 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
This is an interesting and intelligently written novel with some supernatural content, but is it horror?
Oct 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Experimental Film by Gemma Files is a supernatural horror novel. The story takes place in Canada. The protagonist, Lois, is a movie critic and was recently laid off from a teaching position.

Lois comes across film by a Mrs. Whitcomb who might be the first Canadian film-maker, and obtains a grant to research this. We get stuff about film history, which I found interesting, but your mileage may vary.

In the films of the first Canadian film maker is the folk lore character 'Lady Midday.' Here is an
While not the most accessible book for your average horror fan, I did find this pretty enjoyable! A lot of the film talk was a bit boring and confusing, and the writing shifted in style from being lofty and lyrical to being more straight forward, but the story was super interesting and definitely creeped me out at times!

I did find during the more overwritten passages, I lost the plot a bit, especially during the climax of the book. Once I figured out what was going on though, it was really cool.
Crystal O'Leary-Davidson
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"[N]o matter its narrative content, every movie is a ghost story," writes Gemma Files in one of the best opening lines of a novel. Files firmly grounds her horror in the tedium and beauty of the real world and its demands, particularly those on women. And that's what makes her slow-burn horror all the more terrifying--I didn't suspend disbelief; I believed it! Bonus: as a film nerd, I loved all the information about Canadian and horror films, and the actual nature of film itself, as a medium and ...more
M Griffin
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Gemma Files readily admits similarities between her own life and the story of Lois Cairns, former film history teacher and former film critic, with a special needs son. This "drawn from life" quality makes the book feel that much more real and intimate. Of course, it's not all roman à clef. The intriguing story at the center of this concerns a Mrs. Whitcomb, a mysterious figure who may have filmed some bizarre experiments at a time before cinema was a fully developed art form. Some surviving fra ...more
Nancy Baker
Dec 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure: Gemma is a friend and fellow member of the Bellefire writing group. She's also an incredible writer whose work I admired long before we became friends. This book is beautiful, frightening, spooky, and honest. It's about Canadian cinema (hey, it exists), female creativity, mid-life struggles, motherhood, ghosts, the terrors of an old world invading the new, and much more.
Ben Bookworm
Jul 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
DNF @ 103 pages

There is nothing worse than every one liking a book that you look forward to, only for it to be HORSESHIT.
Complete info dumps, bland characters, after 100 pages nothing noteworthy has happened apart from endless coffee meetings and laments on the Canadian film industry.
I gather some like it, but it wasn't for me.
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Bloody Good Horror: July 2019 - Experimental Film 1 23 Jan 06, 2019 11:53AM  

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Previously best-known as a film critic for Toronto's eye Weekly, teacher and screenwriter, Gemma Files first broke onto the international horror scene when her story "The Emperor's Old Bones" won the 1999 International Horror Guild award for Best Short Fiction. She is the author of two collections of short work (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart) and two chapbooks of poetry (Bent Under N ...more

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Victor LaValle knows his way around a scary tale or two. He's the author of the horror novels The Ballad of Black Tom an...
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“I’m pretty sure Mom and Dad didn’t see me coming, either: the kid with the black moods, the kid whose mind was always elsewhere, flinching from real life as from a bruise. Who wanted to lay a fiction-filter on top of everything and pretend it was something else just to keep the sheer disappointment of it all bearable: this limited, empirical experience of ours, trapped inside a decaying shell of meat, mainly able to perceive that nothing lasts, even in our most pleasurable moments.” 7 likes
“In its purest form, done right, watching an experimental film is the closest you can come to dreaming another person’s dreams. Which is why to watch one is, essentially, to invite another person into your head, hoping you emerge haunted.” 6 likes
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