09th Jul2024

‘Double Blind’ VOD Review

by Jim Morazzini

Stars: Millie Brady, Ashley Kumar, Abby Fitz, Shonagh Marie, Pollyanna McIntosh | Written by Darach McGarrigle | Directed by Ian Hunt-Duffy

In scientific terms, double blind refers to an experiment in which neither the subjects nor those in charge of the experiment know who is getting the drug and who is getting a placebo. The new Irish thriller Double Blind, not to be confused with another medical thriller of the same name, revolves around one such experiment, a first stage trial of a drug that might eliminate the need for sleep. And if that sounds familiar, it might be due to another recent Irish film, The Sleep Experiment, based off of the creepypasta The Russian Sleep Experiment. But while there are echoes of that here, the two tell their stories in very different ways.

Double Blind follows Claire (Millie Brady; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), a broke young woman who volunteers for a clinical trial run by Blackwood Pharmaceuticals. She’s part of a group that includes medical student Amir (Ashley Kumar; Pandora, Beautiful Disaster), the relentlessly chatty Alison (Abby Fitz; Redemption, The Woman in the Wall) and equally silent and anti-social Vanessa (Shonagh Marie; The Tower, Britannia).

They’re under the watchful eye of Dr. Burke (Pollyanna McIntosh; Bats: Human Harvest, The Walking Dead) who oversees the administering of the ever-increasing doses of the new drug and the monitoring of its effects. And when those effects are unexpected and potentially dangerous, she and her superiors decide to continue the trials, even offering a large bonus to overcome the participant’s well-founded apprehension over the side effects and changes from what they signed up for.

This is the first feature for both director Ian Hunt-Duffy and writer Darach McGarrigle, although they’ve previously collaborated on shorts including Low Tide and Gridlock. Here they’re balancing the elements of a thriller about an experiment gone wrong with a critique of ethics in the scientific and medical fields. Something that probably wasn’t made easier by all the anti-science bullshit circulating in the wake of COVID.

They actually do a good job, starting the film as Claire arrives on site for the trials and giving the characters enough to say or do that we get an idea of their personalities. Those basic sketches are expanded as needed, often in practical ways, like a flashback brought on by a claustrophobic reaction to an MRI machine.

But it’s once the drug has claimed its first victim and the facility is put into lockdown that the thriller elements kick in. They’re trapped with no hope of help, or more of the drug, for twenty-four hours and the realization that, just like in a Nightmare on Elm Street film, if you fall asleep, you’ll die a bloody death. And it does look like a nasty, and budget-friendly, way to die, having a seizure and bleeding out from your eyes, nose and mouth.

Cinematographer Narayan Van Maele (You Are Not My Mother, Gutland) has a great location to work with, a seemingly endless expanse of sterile white hallways. Even at the beginning of the film, it had a somewhat disturbing feel to it. Seemingly empty except for the occasionally indistinct figure several corridors away.

As Double Blind goes on and the effects of sleep deprivation, including paranoia and hallucinations, start to show up, he gives it a much more overtly menacing feel. He also delivers some nice visuals to represent those hallucinations without resorting to CGI or other effects. The CGI we do get near the film’s end makes the choice to film it that way an even better one. Combined with an effectively unsettling score from Die Hexen (Uroboros, Welcome to a Bright White Limbo) it creates just the right backdrop for the story to take place against. And it does come together nicely in the film’s last act as they struggle to find a way to survive even as they begin to turn against each other. And, the various things we’ve learned about Blackwood Pharmaceuticals should be raising further doubts in the back of viewer’s minds.

While it’s not the most original film you’ll see this year, Double Blind is an effective thriller with plenty of tense moments. It also manages to get its message about big business across without being heavy-handed or preachy.

***½  3.5/5

Double Blind is out now on digital platforms, in the UK, from High Fliers Films.

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