5 September 2010 | krinklyfig
Reminiscent of the Milgram experiment
The film is a taut, effective psychological thriller and character study. It's not entirely novel, but it's well done and could possibly be set on a stage as a play. The set is not elaborate, taking place almost entirely in a white, locked room, and the pacing relies on dialogue and Deus ex Machina, as well as what Hitchcock called MacGuffins, e.g., the gun, the clock, the questions on notes, etc. These types of plot devices are common in thrillers, and they're used to decent effect here. I will agree somewhat with people who found a lot of the dialogue to be very quiet, almost mumbled, particularly when the crew were communicating over the radio. I had the volume up and could hear it, but I believe it was done for a reason and has the effect of subtly adding tension (if you can hear it), and it's likely done for a reason by the researchers. Indeed, everything that happens in the film can be considered part of the experiment. Or perhaps not ...
I see that many people who are reviewing this film believe the premise of the experiment to be implausible. There was an infamous psychological experiment dealing with authority conducted in the early 1960s at Yale, that escalated quickly, but almost predictably, into a Lord of the Flies type situation and had to be halted. It's known as the Milgram experiment, and I'd add a link but it's against the guidelines, so do a search if you're not familiar. Also search for MKULTRA, a very real CIA program that ostensibly was shut down in the mid-1970s after a Congressional investigation uncovered a small amount of evidence of what was going on, some of which involved psychological experiments on unknowing subjects, including a surreptitious LSD dosing of a CIA agent which lead to his suicide. The remaining papers that weren't destroyed before the investigation revealed an environment ripe for the kind of abusive experimentation shown in the movie.
The thing is, the people running MKULTRA really didn't know all that much about a lot of what they were studying, and they had virtually no real oversight and too much latitude, so even though not well intentioned lots of their experiments went nowhere. They tried many different "truth serums" to no avail, as well as studying purported UFOs and paranormal experiments, interviewing and testing "experts" in the field, mostly dealing with the possibility of mind control of some sort. The film "The Men Who Stare At Goats" is a much less serious stab at the subject of MKULTRA. There are also plenty of conspiracy theories floating around about it, including the idea that it was never truly shut down, but the facts as we know them are pretty crazy, with thousands of pages of evidence of a CIA-run covert psychological program gone off the rails - at least with Milgram they knew they had to draw a line somewhere, but not really for MKULTRA.
You really don't need to make anything up, but what the film does with MKULTRA does make for an interesting premise. It's not that different from some of what they used to do, so it's plausible to anyone who knows the history, or plausible enough. You don't need complete realism, just the elements for good drama and a competent cast, and they're all here. It might not appeal to fans of the modern gory morality plays like Saw, as it's not a big budget film and is morally ambiguous. It's not as good as Hitchcock's one-room thrillers, such as "Rope," but what is? It's far better than most horror films made today, relying on slowly building tension which never truly abates, and the ability of the actors to make it real. Worked for me.