The Killing Room

Dir: Jonathan Liebesman
Star: Timothy Hutton, Nick Cannon, ChloŽ Sevigny, Peter Stormare

Four people enter a room and fill in a questionnaire, as part of a psychological experiment. The man running the experiment, Dr. Phillips (Stormare), comes in, discusses the upcoming day's events - then pulls a gun, shoots one of the participants in the head, and leaves the stunned survivors, Crawford (Hutton), Tony and Paul (Cannon), behind. Turns out this particular experiment is only going to leave one of the subjects alive by the end of the day, and there's no way for them to opt out, because the room is sealed. From behind the one-way glass, the doctor and a new employee (Sevigny) watch proceedings, the latter with a steadily-increasing sense of unease. Turns out this is a continuation of the mind-control studies carried out by the US government in the sixties - and supposedly terminated as unethical in the mid-seventies. In a post-9/11 universe, however, all bets are off. But what, exactly, is Phillips trying to achieve with his shocking experiment?

When you finally find out, the payoff is decent enough, and certainly makes you think about certain things in modern society. However, the script certainly takes its own time getting there, deliberately holding back information on the point of the whole shebang, in order to deliver the final punch. And in the meantime, there's a particularly-irritating technical flaw, in that much of the dialogue is buried or muffled; while I assume this is entirely deliberate, in the name of 'realism,' doesn't make it any less annoying to find yourself thinking, "What?" every third sentence. On the plus side, Stormare is perfectly cast as the mad scientist, a defector from an un-named foreign country whose justification is largely his belief that the enemy has people on their side, doing exactly the same sort of things, and we cannot afford to be left behind. This has the ring of plausibility to it, and when the insanity being enacted has a basis in reality, the movie is at its most effective. That just doesn't happen often enough to call this a true success, though I applaud the attempt to make something on the dark topic of brainwashing and mind-control.

[December 2009]

Killing for your culture
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