The Killing Room (2009) Dir. Jonathan Liebesman

Blending Saw & Cube with mixed up results

The tagline above is a little misleading. This doesn’t really have the hook, the brutality or gutteral nastiness that seemed to guarantee Saw‘s success (and seven now? Really?) and it doesn’t share the totally surreal horrors of the much-overlooked Cube. Instead, this feels like a budget-friendly version of both (and trust me, they were pretty cheap) with a little less imagination and an overinflated sense of its own relevance.

I’m trying to review this without endlessly comparing it to Cube, but I can’t help feeling that it performed all this better. The premise is fairly straightforward. Four people turn up to a human testing facility inside a big, white tiled room, where they fill out a bunch of questionnaires. They’re briefly joined by the amiable Dr Phillips (Prison Break’s wonderful Peter Stormare), and everything seems perfectly straightforward until someone gets suddenly, violently shot in the face.

After this, all bets are off, and survival seems to depend on correctly guessing the answers to the world’s most inane questions. So far, so Saw, except Jigsaw didn’t work under black ops for the Government (that we know so far…) and this has far, far less gore and violence all over.

Now, I like my nearly bloodless, psychological horror at least as much as the horribly messy kind (and if torture’s done too convincingly, it sort of spoils the fun experience anyway) but The Killing Room just falls into the ‘not quite enough’ category. Not quite enough grossness, not entirely enough tension. Another movie spoiled by whispering, actually. It relies on the growing conflict between the ever-shrinking group of test subjects, and also on the moral quandry faced by Ms Reilly (Chloe Sevigny) who’s being interviewed at the testing range by the insane quack, Dr Phillips. He spends the film justifyig the experiments, as it soon becomes apparent that this is simply one of many ‘killing rooms’ inside a huge building in the middle of nowhere, where people are being manipulated in exactly the same way.

So I get deja-Cube here, only without Cube’s magnificent, nihilistic angle of ‘it was set up and left to run by itself’.

And, I admit that it’s Killing Room, not the many trapped rooms of the above. But my problem with it overall is that the people we meet are completely and utterly trapped – they have no escape possible at all, that’s obvious from the moment we learn it’s all being staged under the control of the morally-bankrupt scientists, callously observing their struggles. Even Ms Reilly’s wildcard interviewee fails to convince. Apart from her eventual decsion, there was still nobody who can possibly save them. This is one of the reasons it fails. The other is the reason for it all happening in the first place.

After soon realising all the characters we met had no chance at all, the only question left of any interest was ‘why are they doing it?‘. In Cube, there’s honestly ‘no reason at all‘ (avoid the sequels, though…) but here the process turns out to be a roundabout way of creating suicide bombers, as the Doctor aims to find people with the self sacrificial gene, those that give their lives for others (as in apotosis). As even Ms Reilly points out, there are better ways of going about this, and it probably isn’t by mentally torturing someone until they bug out and try to shoot themselves.

At the end, the survivor gets put into the second phase of the programme, which indicates that brainwashing is now involved.WTF? Did none of these people watch the Manchurian Candidate? Surely that’s where you start? It just felt very back to front.

While there’s nothing particularly wrong with the movie, it’s just not interesting enough for a ‘people stuck in one box’ concept. There are more interesting interpretations around. I intend to see Fermat’s Room at some point, which is another mash of Cube, Saw and the whole claustrophobic, often mathematically obsessed end of the horror genre.

Worth a look, but don’t expect the whispers and a sleepy performance from Peter Stormare to fully hold your attention.

Cube is awesome.


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