Andrew Garfield, Mahershala Ali, Ruth Negga, and five others received their first-ever acting nominations for 2017. While these actors are new to the Academy Awards, you may recognize them from their earlier work.
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Let me start by saying that a lot of what you're about to read may seem like spoilers, but all of the following plot information is given within the first 10 minutes of the movie.
In this movie, the CIA's secret "MK-Ultra" mind-control experiments of the '70s (which really did occur) seem to still be in operation. Four civilians answer a classified ad seeking volunteers for medical testing, only to be locked in a room together and subjected to psychological and some physical torture, plus a little death. This is not "torture porn" though, and aside from a couple of run-of-the-mill gunshots, it actually doesn't involve much graphic violence at all.
While there have been many "locked in a room together for a mysterious and violent experiment" movies, this one is different in that it's told primarily from the perspective of an observer: a doctor who is interviewing for a position at the organization. She has no idea what she's about to observe when she arrives, so she joins the audience in horror as the various aspects of the experiment are revealed.
This movie has a lot of problems. The writing, mainly the dialog, seemed a bit lackluster, but the competent acting compensated somewhat for that. I also found the use of the shaky camera a little annoying, as was the use of a few little fake-out sequences meant to make the audience go, "Oh, she was only imagining that." You know the kind.
Also, the employees operating the experiment would communicate via crackly radio, using lots of military mumbo-jumbo ("echo-2 commence stimulus foxtrot, wilco"), which seemed almost laughably inappropriate, and disproportionate to coordinating closed-room experiments. It sounded like they were an airport tower trying to land planes in a blizzard. It struck me as overly melodramatic, trying too hard to make it sound like a military operation.
But for all its problems, this movie will surprise you in the end with its relevance. I'm still feeling it sink in. The ending made this movie entirely worth watching (if not good), which I'm glad I did. There isn't much I can say about it without spoiling it, so I'll just say that it's often our artists -- our filmmakers, our writers -- who tell us where we might be headed. Sorry if that sounds cryptic. You'll have to watch the movie. :)
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