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The Killing Room (2009)

Genius Products
DVD Released: 10/13/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/12/2009

As an undergrad psychology major, I was required to participate in psychological experiments. (And I always wondered, wouldn't it skew the results to have psychology students as the subjects of psychological experiments? Wouldn't they know how to answer to manipulate the tests?) Students had to sign up for experiments on a first-come-first-serve basis, and the sign-up sheet did not list what the experiment was going to entail. As this was a requirement for all first-year students, everyone would sign up for anything that was at a convenient time. I distinctly remember the anticipation, waiting to see if you would be chosen for the experiment, and if so, what it would be. (For the record, most were simply filling out questionnaires.) The Killing Room nicely replicates these feelings of dread and then takes the unease to a whole new level.

As The Killing Room opens, we see four individuals -- Kerry (Clea DuVall), Tony (Shea Whigham), Paul (Nick Cannon), and Crawford (Timothy Hutton) -- being ushered into a large room. The room is completely white and very sterile looking. In the center of the room is a long stainless steel table surrounded by stainless steel chairs. All of the furniture is bolted to the floor. All four of the individuals have answered a newspaper ad claiming cash payment for participation in a psychological experiment. As they file in, they are given a written survey to complete. When they finish, they begin to nervously discuss what the experiment might be. Soon, Mr. Phillips (Peter Stormare) enters the room, welcoming the group, assuring them that they will be paid, and stating that the experiment has already begun. Then, he suddenly unleashes an explosive act of violence which lets the participants know that the room is not a safe place. Now, the lab rats realize that they are trapped in the room and that the experiment has become a game of life or death. Will they work together to survive or defy one another in hopes of living?

A title card at the opening of The Killing Room informs us that the story is based on the U.S. governments now (supposedly) defunct MK Ultra program which conducted experiments in mind-control. One of the properties of the experiment, if an individual will sell-out a colleague, is based on several well-known psychological experiments. While this may serve to give the film some credibility, itís also a moot point, as this is a very good thriller.

The Killing Room is one of those clever little films which takes a small cast and essentially two sets and makes the most of it. The most important factors here are the filmís story, the character development, and the great pacing. Going into The Killing Room, I knew nothing about the movie, so I found the two big plot twists to be very successful. Granted, I knew that something bad was going to happen (I hate to pigeonhole actors, but when Peter Stormare is overseeing an experiment, itís probably not going to be the effect of bunnies and kittens on people.), but I did not anticipate the violent turn which the film takes and how the experiment would become a test of survival, as opposed to mental torture. Once the stakes are raised, the characters, who had been cordial at best, begin to be very frank with one another, and we start to learn things about them.

Kudos must go to Director Jonathan Liebesman, who previously made the lame Darkness Falls and the awful Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Here, he dispenses with over-editing and simply finds creative ways to shoot people trapped in a room. Through the use of video monitors and creative shots, Liebesman is able to create a sense of claustrophobia which permeates the film. He also does a great job of not telegraphing the plot twists, so that they are truly surprising. He also gets good work from his actors. As usual, Hutton is solid and Stormare is intimidating. The biggest surprise here may be Nick Cannon. The amiable host of Americaís Got Talent, plays a rag-tag man who barely speaks and conveys a true sense of hopelessness.

So, letís go ahead and make The Killing Room this weekís ďIíve heard of these people, why havenít I heard of this movie?Ē entry. And, as usual, my answer is, ďI donít know.Ē The movie was shot in late 2007 and played at Sundance in 2009. Thereís no doubt that itís much better than many of the movies which make it into theaters. My guess is that the very down ending turned off many viewers. That doesnít change the fact that this is a very well made little movie which will satisfy those looking for a suspense thriller which actually lives up to that term.

The Killing Room asks some very challenging questions on DVD courtesy of Genius Products. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing basically no grain and no defects from the source material. Given that most of the film takes place in a white room, the lack of grain is an accomplishment. The image is never overly dark or bright. The few splashes of color, mostly red, look very good. I noted some mild haloes, but otherwise the image looked good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The track definitely has some pros and cons. The subwoofer effects are great, and they shook the walls at times. The stereo effects are very well done, making nice use of off-screen noises. However, the dialogue was muddy at time and as there are no subtitles on the DVD, it was difficult to know what was being said in some scenes. Also, the surround sound is very weak. The movie is filled with radio chatter from those observing the experiment and placement of this audio in the rear speakers would have really enhanced the mood.

The only extra on this DVD is a TRAILER for the movie.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long