Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Killing Room

I heard good buzz about Jonathan Liebesman's 2009 film The Killing Room after its premiere at Sundance last year, so I decided to check it out. It's a minimalistic thriller, set in mostly two rooms, and I've been a fan of films like that for a while now (movies like Tape, Hard Candy, Saw, Rear Window, and 1408 are good examples of other entries in the genre). So did the movie live up to the buzz? Read on to find out.

The Killing Room
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Timothy Hutton, Nick Cannon, Chloe Sevigny

Since most of you have never heard of this movie, I'll embed the trailer below so you can check it out. (By the way, whoever converted that trailer for the web should be fired.) The story follows a group of volunteers who sign up to participate in an experiment. At the same time, a hotshot government employee is undergoing an interview process to join a covert operation. Her job is to monitor the experiments and give her evaluation to the man in charge, a shady man who is giving her unorthodox "interview." When she discovers that the experiments are part of the MK-ULTRA program, a real-life study involving mind control and brain manipulation thought to be defunct years prior, things ramp up as she realizes things aren't going to end well.

Overall, though, this movie just didn't do it for me. It wreaked of a Saw rip-off, going so far as to have an ending with a similar vibe (although very different plot-wise). It was well-directed, but the initial shot you see in the trailer was really the only time the film had me in its grasp. The rest of the time I was trying to remain engaged with the plot, but there really wasn't enough there to hold onto. I think this is a good example of an idea that sounds good in theory but doesn't pay off in execution. The material takes itself very seriously, and we're never truly given an explanation about how the Man in Charge is able to legally get away with his actions. (He vaguely responds that this project has always operated outside of governmental control and he has "full amnesty." I'm going to need something a bit more legit than that, Chief.)

The performances were OK, but there really wasn't anyone who stood out. Nick Cannon played one of the characters, but his acting was probably the worst of the bunch. He over-acted so heavily (he was supposed to be a down-and-out, possibly homeless, guy) that I was certain there must be a twist where his character is actually some sort of undercover badass, but alas - nothing nearly as interesting happened over the course of the film.

The pacing was really uneven throughout; even the editing seemed to change speed during certain scenes for no apparent reason. There was some action near the end, involving running through hallways and potential double-crosses, but the entire experience left me apathetic. There are so many better films out there (such as the ones listed above) that use the same structure, so I wouldn't recommend seeing The Killing Room. There are plenty of other movies that also feature the same themes and plot points (Richard Donner's Conspiracy Theory comes to mind), so the combination of the Saw-style setting and the familiar material left me feeling like I'd seen this movie before.

OH! I almost forgot. If for some reason you do decide to check out this movie, good luck understanding what people are saying. The cast mumbles its way through half of the dialogue, and the other half is spoken by the Man in Charge with a sporadic thick accent, so I went to turn on the subtitles just to comprehend what was going on. What's that, DVD? You only have a "Play Now" and a "Scene Selection" option on your menu? What is this, 1997? Step up your game! There weren't any subtitles, so I had to change the settings on my TV to "Speech," and even then I missed a good portion of the mumbles and slurs. Just a suggestion to all you filmmakers out there - if you want people to like your movie, you should probably make it clear what your characters are saying.

The Killing Room = weak sauce. Here's hoping the rest of March Madness is filled with higher quality content. From me, at least - I can't promise that Trehern won't throw another ninja movie into his queue before the end of the month. But if he does, hopefully it's watchable at the very least. Until next time...


Alan Trehern said...

Were DVDs out in '97? I don't remember seeing a DVD til like 2004.

Ben Pearson said...

That sounds about right for you. You were still watching VHS's in 2007.

Panther Joe said...

pwned Trehern. I can see why you would call it a Saw ripoff...the movie poster makes it look like hes in the Saw bathroom.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your audio comments. Had to use max volume and still had difficulty understanding the dialogue.