The aftermath of 9/11 has seen a lot of changes occur in popular media, and yes, I'm focusing primarily on the movies. We've already had our share of modern war thrillers set in a modern theater, using allegories of the current conflict now almost a decade in. Better yet are the movies that pose more cerebral questions, both of morality as well as patriotism, and the tolls taken on the human race, especially the American citizenry. I loved Brian DePalma's Redacted for it's unflinching look at the desensitization of the military in Iraq, as well as Kimberley Pierce's Stop-Loss for its brave look at the after effects of battle on minds raised on the Xbox and Playstation. I love how both films present uncomfortable dilemmas both for those of us unfamiliar with the battles currently waging, as well as those seasoned from having seen it firsthand.
Even more cerebral than that, though, and deep rooted are films with more of a basis on post-9/11 life outside of battle. Movies like Traitor, painting a portrait of the necessary evils some patriots must take in order to facilitate some type of peace, and yes, even the recent Unthinkable starring Samuel L Jackson, where torture is explored and the question "do the ends justify the means" exploitatively posed. The Killing Room is like that, only it really has nothing outwardly to do with the military, since the facilitators depicted in the film don't exist on any level legitimate US Intelligence playing field.
Opening with an explanation of the defunct MK Ultra program run by the CIA during the decades preceding and even potentially during the Cold War. For those unfamiliar, it was a study of potential methods for mind control by the military and other intelligence groups to give us an advantage over enemies of the state due to escalated fears of future acts of terror both on American soil and outside of the US. The program was ordered to stop by the Rockefeller Commission given its nature, but most records of the program had already been destroyed in 1973. Speculations on the project have fueled conspiracy theorists plights for decades, and will likely continue to do so given the sheer plausibility and rumor of the defunct program. This new millennium, and more specifically the after effects of September 11, 2001 have given rise to many refreshed ponderings of what could be if the MK project were still running.
It's a morality tale mostly, acted by Timothy Hutton, Shea Whigham, Nick Cannon, and Clea Duvall. Participants in a psychological study slated to last a mere 8 hours and see them paid $250. Led to an oppressive white room, they're given test pamphlets, and their chemistry together begins to gel. They're observed over closed circuit TV by Chloe Sevigny's Dr. Emily Reilly, who witnesses prerecorded events that see a late entry into the room by Dr. Phillips (a scene chewing accent-less Peter Stormare) who traumatically (really, not for the faint-hearted since it comes completely out of left-field) indoctrinates them into the program for which they are there. It's brutal and gripping from the start, then proceeds to ratchet up the tension as the film progresses with a finesse and pace rarely equaled for something that went directly to DVD.
It's a film that while contrived begs the question of what human beings are capable of, and also poses questions about how those beings can be further conditioned to act against their own nature, all but giving up their survival instinct for a greater good. I don't want to get too philosophical here, since really I'd be stealing that thunder from the movie, but I honestly can't say that I even once had the movie pegged. From the time I hit play on the DVD machine to the time the credits rolled, I was surprised, shocked, on the edge of my seat, all that stereotypical crap reviewers tag movie posters with. The Killing Room is exciting because the tension is almost unbearable and because of how well it works and is played out by the leads. Hutton especially works to shrug off the good natured friendliness of his role in Leverage to play something completely different here. Support by Shea Whigham was great as well, but he's a character actor I've come to enjoy see getting more and more work. Nick Cannon, even, is a likable character, playing clueless and victimized as well as his more established peers. Ultimately though, it's the cold and distanced dialog between Sevigny and Stormare that casts light on the dilemma being played out, and just how well you receive the film will depend on their back and forths.
Even better is the fact that I'm still thinking about the movie, and looking forward to watching it again, so I can see if other people may have the same reaction that I did upon my initial viewing. It both made me ill at ease and played on my need to have my questions answered. Everything comes together here quite well, and not sloppily either. You shouldn't have any questions once the credits roll beyond wondering if those very circumstances are possibly being played on a similar group of everyday people somewhere in the urban sprawl of America.