Sundance 2009 Review: Jonathan Liebesman's The Killing Room
by Alex Billington
January 18, 2009
This is the first film from Sundance this year that really has no buzz even though it turned out to be a great film. The Killing Room is a very taut thriller based on the real life MK-ULTRA top secret government psychological program in which various volunteer test subjects are put in a tense situation. In The Killing Room, four people are brought into an all white room with a table and some chairs and given a test to fill out. They are told that they'll make $250 at the end of the day and participate in numerous phases. Just as the first phase begins, the leader pulls out a gun and shoots one of them in the head. And then we're off.
The Killing Room is a lot like Cube and Saw, both previous Sundance flicks, except that its a deviation from those two in that we see some of the behind-the-scenes of the program. In the beginning we're introduced to their latest young recruit (Chloë Sevigny), who is newly hired to work under the program's director, Dr. Phillips (Peter Stormare). Throughout the film we're shown what it's like to be a test subject in the so called "killing room" and what it's like for a newcomer not adjusted to be watching this and accepting what's happening. Overall, it's a very interesting take on the whole idea and quite fascinating to watch.
Jonathan Liebesman really proves that he's a much more capable director than previous. The film borders on the edge of being mainstream, but inevitably stays very independent with its tight-knit feel and sleek directing. Liebesman does a fine job of unraveling the story of what's happening to these "victims" but also gives us enough of a look at the behind-the-scenes so as to not get completely lost. The score from Brian Tyler was one of the most memorable aspects, as was the acting. The actors being held within the room (Timothy Hutton, Shea Whigham, and Nick Cannon) were truly the keys to making this work.
Overall, The Killing Room is a very fine thriller that I've found myself liking more and more as time passes. I'm already anxious to show this to my friends who are fans of Cube and Saw so that I can introduce them to the latest notable indie thriller and show them that Liebesman can really direct something great.
Sundance Rating: 8 out of 10