Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A girl wakes up and is confused by her surroundings and what she’s wearing; in the opening shot of James Raynor’s horror short “The Oxenhope Experiment,” the where is some kind of jail cell and the what is a weird-looking rubber apron thingy. She goes to the cell door and uneasily opens it, unsure where she’s going or what has happened. She starts running to find a way out.
Elsewhere, a man wakes up also confused as to where he is and sporting a flesh wound. He gets up and begins running frantically, looking for the girl. Can I stop now? Well, if I were being told this story I would have it stopped because it felt like a horror short that I’ve seen a zillion times throughout film schools, festivals and submissions for review. That’s not to totally crap all over Raynor’s work as it’s capable, if not a bit on the cheesy side (which I think is the intent), it’s just that I’ve seen it too many times. Confused people running or being chased by weird looking, shadowy figures make for an easy thrill but, ultimately, character development and a cohesive story are needed to make a film of any length truly great.
“The Oxenhope Experiment” chooses to throw the viewer into the action straight away, which is not that big of a problem. However, I didn’t know what was going on (which was intended) and never managed to care (which is an issue). The girl in the film gets chased around by some creepy looking thingies, who have heads that are apparently attached to the weakest necks ever created, as the boy tries to break into the holding area to find her. Again, this is fine but it’s also very derivative. Where “The Oxenhope Experiment” succeeds is in it’s sparse and apocalyptic set design, which seems to be a burned-out old pill box or some kind of military installation, and in its soundtrack. The film is also in black and white, but this neither added nor detracted anything for me.
That’s not to say editor/director Raynor is bad at his craft. He shows an ability to shoot and edit action pretty well and he keeps the film moving along at a brisk pace. “The Oxenhope Experiment” also manages some scenes of ooky gore done on a low-budget, but this made me giggle more than jump from fear. This was another issue for me: am I supposed to be laughing at this film and it’s b-movie stylings or be involved with the action? I definitely felt both ways at times, but the tone was off for me. “The Oxenhope Experiment” (and don’t ask me who Oxenhope is or what his/her experiment was) isn’t a completely awful short film, it was just nothing I hadn’t seen before.
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