THE SUNDERLAND EXPERIMENT
Firstly I would like to thank co-directors Adam Petke and Sean Blau for allowing me to see their film “The Sunderland Experiment” before its official release date. This is Adam and Sean’s first full length feature, it’s an indie sci-fi/horror film. It stars Dylan O’Brien, Katie Reed, Fabianna Borghese and Jonathon Brophy. The main character of the story is rebellious teen David (O’Brien), he lives a very plain existence in a small society in the middle of nowhere. After his life is saved by an alien, he attempts to become part of a new society where host and human become one. Forgive me if the details are muddled, it’s difficult to explain.
I stumbled across the official Facebook page for this film and I was pretty intrigued by the sound of a very interesting plot. The film starts with a solid narration eluding to the society that David is living in. What follows is a very odd scene at a garage station which leads into the “town” for lack of a better term, that the rest of the film takes place in. I thought the steady camera work and clever use of natural light really worked for this desolate landscape filling most of the movie. I thought the alien looked pretty good considering the miniscule budget. I would guess the budget would be between $10,000- $100,000 but I’m not sure. When the story finally gets around to some action the prosthetics and makeup effects look pretty impressive too.
It disappoints me when I say that the bad far outweighs the good in The Sunderland Experiment. The film has far to many peculiar characters that remain undeveloped for the entire running time. It’s probably done that way on purpose, due to the obscure nature of the plot. Sadly there is no one to make a connection with or to have sympathy for. I found the audio levels between sound effects and dialogue very inconsistent. My speakers got a real winding back and forth. Both the dialogue and the score leave a lot to be desired too. The suspense gets lost in the pacing and the muddled aspects of the plot. The cast never really shine at any point. It’s hard to tell if it’s the robot like, monotone dialogue or simply bad acting. O’Brien however, has a few emotional scenes that he absolutely nails but then in the more simple scenes he seems completely disinterested.
Far to many details remain undiscovered when The Sunderland Experiment is all said and done. What was the initial state of the world? Was this the future? How long ago had things started to unravel leading to this dire situation our protagonists find themselves in? I think there was a whole other opportunity for a story here that was missed. It ended up being a random and confusing plot. The decision about the term “blessed” meaning being turned into an alien or merged with your host, at least that’s what I think it meant but I’m not too sure. To be honest, I’m not really sure what any of it meant. David never really seems to concerned that his mother is decomposing and changing into some kind of new life form. It was all very random, reminiscent of a Cronenberg film but on a much smaller budget with a much less coherent plot.
I really wanted to like The Sunderland Experiment. If some of the story was explained through the solid narration we are privy to in the beginning, this may have been something else entirely. It needed clarity with the films details and sub-plots. This is a slow-burn film that lacks in action, plot details and any real substance. It can be compared with films like “Invasion of the body snatchers” and even Harmony Korine’s “Gummo”. At heart this was a sci-fi film that I took very little away from. Perhaps there are fans of these types of films out there and if so I can recommend a viewing, sadly this was not for me. I say thankyou again to Adam and Sean, hopefully I have not put them off too much and I look forward to seeing what either of their next projects are. I do commend them on the technical aspects of the film because they were a success.
My rating for “The Sunderland Experiment” is 3/10