Ginger Nuts of Horror
KIT POWER REVIEWS ADAM NEVILL'S FOUND FOOTAGE HORROR NOVEL
Having recently picked up (and been thoroughly traumatised by) No One Gets Out Alive, I was eager to jump into Adam Nevill’s back catalogue to see what other dark delights were in store. I’ll confess to a touch of concern, too - after all, NOGOA won the British Fantasy Award for horror novel of the year. Did that mean it represented a career high - a leap of quality over the past? Would the back catalogue feel, by comparison, unformed, less strong, somehow unsatisfying?
I should have known better.
Last Days is a tour-de-force of a horror novel - atmospheric, tense, and powerful. Nevill has an incredible talent for building a sense of creeping dread, setting up a scenario and then slowly, methodically, and mercilessly turning the screw on his unfortunate protagonists.
In this case, that means Kyle Freeman, a documentary film maker whose finances are teetering precariously somewhere between overextended and breaking point. Fuelled by passion, but unable to make that breakthrough picture, he receives an almost-too-good-to-be-true offer to make a documentary about the Last Days cult - a group who started in London, then migrated to Paris, before finally self-destructing in the Arizona desert. The terms are favourable, the timescale hellishly tight. Armed with his recording equipment, and best friend and camera operator Dan, Kyle sets out to film the locations the cult operated, as well as interview the survivors.
And, I mean, there’s just so much about this set up that’s really, really smart. For starters, there’s the real-world equivalents of the cult in the novel, many of whom are referenced as part of the research Kyle does. This grounds the Last Days movement as part of a wider, all-too-real cultural phenomenon. More impressively though, it means that Kyle has heard of Last Days, is aware of their history, even though the reader is not. This allows Nevill to do what in other circumstances would feel contrived, even hack; he can keep the nature of the cult a mystery to the reader, initially, hinting through conversation and snatches of historical discussion at the nature of things, allowing the story of the Last Days to be revealed to us through the testimonies of the interview subjects.
It’s an incredibly canny narrative choice, because it places the reader right into the story, hanging on every word as the former cult members reveal, by degrees, the truth of what it was like inside the group as the internal politics and divisions manifested. By giving the characters of the novel a shared knowledge of the group history, the reader is forced to learn through inference, and via the process of the film making. This is an approach that required imagination and guts to attempt, and incredible narrative skill to execute smoothly. Nevill has all these qualities in abundance, and as a result the novel reads with breathtaking pace and narrative flow. I was completely drawn into this aural history of the cult, especially the peeling of the layers, each testimony adding depth - and provoking more questions - pulling me further down the rabbit hole.
And then there are the supernatural elements. Put simply, this novel is, in part, a found footage story - an idea that may sound inadvisable on paper, but which is frankly magnificent in execution. Some of the biggest heart-in-the-mouth moments in this novel come from when the two man crew come to review their daily rushes. This is deeply smart storytelling - genre aware, self aware, but a million miles from ironic detachment or deconstruction. The healthy cynicism of the filmmakers is an inspired choice in this regard, as I found their reactions - disbelief, turning to unease and eventually fear - closely mirrored my own, as little by little, Nevill dragged me into the darkness at the heart of his story.
I really don’t have a bad word to say about this exceptional horror novel. It is an exquisite and literate piece of work, from the grand structure to the sentence by sentence prose. It is inspired, original, and terrifying.
I’m convinced. No One Gets Out Alive, exceptional as it is, was no flash in the pan. Adam Nevill is the real deal.
I am really looking forward to exploring the rest of his catalogue of work.
Kit Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary.
In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo, www.disciplesofgonzo.com