A high-concept/low-impact twist on torture porn, “The Killing Room” will likely do its slaying on DVD. As a quartet of human lab rats promised the now-princely sum of $250 suffers horribly at the hands of shadowy, sadistic U.S. patriots, director Jonathan Liebesman’s own coercive techniques — unsettling sound design, shrewdly nauseating camerawork, a claustrophobic blood-on-white-tile set — fail to keep his audience captive for long. Each player in the quirky cast — including Timothy Hutton in black skullcap-and-goatee a la U2’s Edge and a slow-burning, pierced eyebrow-sporting Nick Cannon –manages a memorable moment or two, but the pic’s simplistic political message — Torture is U.S. — would’ve played far better in 9/11’s immediate aftermath, when the film is set.
As a conscience-plagued torturer-in-training whose own reactions are being tested by the murderous Dr. Phillips (Peter Stormare), Chloe Sevigny is forced to play out repetitive emotions that can be guessed from Liebesman’s first scene. Twenty minutes in, “The Killing Room” administers a promisingly nasty shock that the film’s remainder can’t sustain. Opening titles’ pretentious reference to the Rockefeller Commission, a Nixon-era mind-control lab, hardly help place the dated premise in the here and now.