I'm on a roll here. The Facility is my second movie in a row to feature a group of characters under threat of turning into blood-thirsty rage zombies. There I go throwing around the z word as if it doesn't carry a legacy (baggage?) with it. Okay fine, the folks in The Facility may not technically be zombies. They're more like the kissing cousins of the infected in 28 Days Later or the recently viewed Antisocial. Replace rage monkeys and social media with a highly experimental drug and you'll have a fair idea of the path this film follows.
The film begins with the convergence of seven strangers on the titular facility which is a medical testing ground for new drugs. They all come from different walks of life. Some of them, like Morty (Steve Evets) and Joni (Alex Reid) have done this sort of thing before while others are complete newbies. A few, like Arif (Amit Shah) really need the cash while others have more complex motives, like the journalist Katie (Nia Roberts) who is looking for a juicy story. Adam (Aneurin Barnard), a young postgraduate is our audience surrogate as we see him enter the program and meet everyone else.
The terms of their agreement are pretty cut and dry: 2000 pounds for 2 weeks of observation after they've been injected with a drug called Pro-9. They can't leave the facility and communication with the outside world will be severely limited. The study itself is a double-blind with even the administering doctor (Chris Larkin) and nurse (Emily Butterfield) not knowing who in the group has been given the drug and who has received a harmless placebo. Everything is calm for a little while as the participants settle into their stay. The reverie is suddenly broken when one of them has a bad reaction to the drug and another wanders off only to return covered in someone else's blood. It appears as though Pro-9 has some nasty side effects. It turns people into remorseless rage-driven monsters. This, as they say, is the beginning of the end.
There isn't a shred of novelty to be found in The Facility. This isn't an indictment; merely a statement of fact. It is exactly the sort of movie you think it is going to be, hitting all the story beats that one might expect from an entry in its genre. While that could be detrimental to a film, writer / director Ian Clark uses the familiarity as a shortcut to get to the bits that he really wants to focus on. He is most interested in milking suspense from the idea that these characters never know when their bodies are going to betray them (and in turn, the entire group). This distrust eats away at them, turning the proceedings fairly hostile. They weren't friends to begin with so the only thing testing their loyalty to each other is common human decency.
My talk of the tense group dynamic isn't meant to suggest that the film is a chatty snoozefest. Clark has a strong sense of atmosphere and staging. He presents this as a slasher film with a few innocents trapped in the maze like hallways of a nondescript and sterile office building. The gore effects are bloody and practical with special attention paid to another side effect of the drug: exaggerated inflammation. Also working to support the atmosphere is the spare sound design. I don't recall the film having much of a score. This made me start paying more attention to all the little background noises as well as the deafening silence that pervades much of the film.
Give that this is his feature-length directorial debut, Clark certainly shows a lot of promise on a purely visual level. Where he stumbles is with his own screenplay. There are specific choices made throughout the film that effectively defuse the tension that he's worked so hard to build. An example is the use of placebos. I found the idea of a double-blind study to be sneaky and smart. Until they really start to show symptoms, everyone can maintain hope that they are uninfected. The suspense borne of this unpredictability goes out the window when someone finds a list that clearly lays out who received the drug. One could claim that this adds an ‘us versus them' angle to the film but I can't overcome the damage the reveal does to the central premise.
Another odd choice by Clark that is sure to divide audiences is the finale. It is abrupt and comes completely out of the blue. Some may find this quirky and unusual but to me it just feels incomplete. Not only does the film forgo a rousing finish, Clark even goes so far as to resolve the central conflict with an on-screen textual epilogue. Besides cheating the audience, this is a disservice to the cast who are denied the ability to give their characters true closure and forced to do dumb things because the script demands it of them. Fortunately the cast members are game for anything. This is an ensemble piece so everyone lands a juicy scene or two but the standouts are Aneurin Barnard and Alex Reid as the male and female leads while Steve Evets is sufficiently unpredictable as the miserable curmudgeon with a mean streak.