FATHER-Son team Mick and Tom Sands wrote and directed this intriguing drama. Tom told EDWIN GILSON why Brighton was such a fitting location and why the film is all the more relevant in the post-Weinstein era

FOR all its seaside splendour and giddy thrills, Brighton has featured in many dark films and works of fiction.

Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock rather set the tone for noir thrillers set in the city, to be followed by Ann Berg’s twisted novel Berg and Paul Andrew Williams’ murky movie London to Brighton to name a few.

And now a father-son filmmaking duo are adding to that lineage with their new picture The Holly Kane Experiment, a psychological thriller based around human psychology and powerful men. The independent film follows science researcher Holly (Kirsty Averton) as she explores new developments in mind control.

Part of her motivation is to use these advances for her own sake – mental illness runs in her family and she fears for her own sanity. At the same time, two mysterious men attempt to exploit her vulnerability.

Tom, 26, says Brighton captured the tone he and his father wanted to set with the film. The director lived here for five years, attending and dropping out of Brighton film school before moving to London to further his career.

“I always wanted to shoot the film in Brighton,” he says. “I think it suited it very well. Brighton is quite badly represented in films usually.

“You only see the pier or some Regency architecture. I wanted to show its underbelly.” There are a few scenes shot in “dingy bars” across the city but the crew were granted access to the Royal Pavilion and underneath the Palace Pier.

The young filmmaker has made four films with his father, all of which have a focus on the psychological. Mick consulted his psychotherapist friend before filming began on The Holly Kane Experiment to make sure the delicate subject matter was true to reality. Tom says the mind control plot running through the film was a metaphorical response to an array of societal factors.

“I think sometimes people are unaware of how their thoughts can be manipulated on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “Advertising is a good example of that. What we’re trying to say is that you can’t trust your mind completely. The unconscious mind plays a huge role in the decisions we make, so how can we be sure of what’s going on?”

Nobody in the Sands family has suffered from severe mental health issues, but Tom believes that “everyone suffers from depression in some way, a little bit at least”. “A lot of people in society ignore and suppress the bad psychological stuff but we want to explore it,” he adds.

While awareness about mental health is growing by the year, another uncomfortable truth society has been forced to navigate in recent times is the allegations of abuse and harassment from prominent men towards women.

The Holly Kane Experiment was written before the Harvey Weinstein revelations but certain elements of the film certainly bring to mind the behaviour of some of Hollywood’s leading men.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision to attack that but the idea of a rich, powerful man manipulating a woman did not seem alien to us,” says Tom. “That seems to go on an awful lot. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I do know a lot of nasty stuff has gone on.”

When pushed on whether he’s referring to incidents within the film industry, Tom doesn’t go into specifics but says “it’s been going on for decades...even before the Weinstein stories.”

Tom stopped attending classes at Brighton Film School near Preston Circus because he found making his own movies much more of an education than “listening to an old guy drone on for eight hours”. He adds: “For me, it was completely useless – but I still got a diploma.”

Having wanted to be a director since the age of 11, it made sense for Tom to work with his father and it has proved a fruitful collaboration. Mick had a back catalogue of finished scripts just waiting to be turned into movies.

While Tom is fairly pessimistic about the future of independent films amid declining DVD sales and Netflix domination, he says he can’t see himself falling out of love with his craft anytime soon.

“I’ll always do this in some way or the other.”

The Holly Kane Experiment
Duke’s at Komedia, Brighton, February 11, 9pm. For tickets and more information visit picturehouses.com. The Holly Kane Experiment can be pre-ordered on ITunes. For more information about the film visit substantialfilms.co.uk