Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Killing Room

Jonathan Liebesman | 2009 | 90 mins | USA

Four random volunteers turn up at some kind of medical facility for what they believe is a paid research study. Within moments of their introduction to the coolly European sounding Dr. Phillips (Peter Stormare), one of them has been shot dead and left to bleed out in the room with them. The remaining three terrified civilians are locked in while military psychologist Ms. Reilly (Chloƫ Sevigny) watches from an observation chamber, emotionally conflicted about the classified experiment she is witnessing.

As it turns out, Dr. Phillips is trying to recruit Ms. Reilly to join his top secret team, to work on a macabre program that was thought to have been terminated over two decades before. Sevigny is ok in the role but she takes the "ambitious and unemotional" side of her character so seriously that her face may as well be made of wood for most of the film. Even as her veneer cracks (inevitably, as the experiment becomes more and more horrific to witness) she remains just a smidge too stoic.

Timothy Hutton and Nick Cannon (a savvy livin'-on-the-fringes skeptic and a scared kid, respectively) both really shine in their roles as pawns in the gruesome experiment. They (alongside Shea Whigham and Clea DuVall) are the four volunteers who quickly discover that they're unwilling participants in a deadly nightmare in which they are presented with a series of questions they they must answer in a finite period of time, knowing that one of them will be "eliminated" at the end of each round.

The film's basic premise is based on a real top-secret government psychological experiment called MK-ULTRA, which conducted mind control experiments on unsuspecting members of the public from the 1950s through the '70s. The CIA officially claims that the project has been abandoned for decades, and The Killing Room starts out as an imaginative exploration of what MK-ULTRA might look like in the present day.

The sinister cat and mouse game being played by the demented Dr. Phillips starts out intriguing as the captives become increasingly demented in their attempts to figure out what the hell is going on. Unfortunately, toward the end of the film, the once-promising story deteriorates into a reveal that is so implausible as to make the whole film seem like a big, silly waste of time.

The ending was obviously intended to be bone-chilling, but comes off as ill-conceived instead. Good setup, disappointing finish.

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