Sometimes you find little cinematic gems among the smaller, low-budget films that studios release directly to video. And sometimes you don't. In the case of ThinkFilm's 2006 thriller "The Killing Floor," which premiered at the Malibu Film Festival in 2007 and is now making what is essentially its debut on DVD, we've got a film that starts out with an interesting premise and then disintegrates partway through. Still, it's a notch above most made-for-TV dramas, so for mystery fans it might not be an entirely bad rental choice.
Co-written, co-produced, and directed by fledgling feature filmmaker Gideon Raff, "The Killing Floor" begins as a suspense flick. A successful New York literary agent, David Lamont (Marc Blucas), who handles mostly horror writers, moves into an extravagant, old, downtown apartment building. He takes the penthouse, which occupies the top three floors, a place so large it could easily house most of the USC football team. But no sooner does he move in than peculiar things start happening.
First, David thinks somebody is stalking him. Then somebody tries to run him down in the street. After that, the son of a former tenant shows up claiming the penthouse is rightfully his. Next, David finds an envelope full of pictures slipped under his door, pictures of a ghastly murder that apparently took place in his new house but which the police subsequently covered up. Later, he discovers a videotape in the middle of his front-room floor, a tape showing police images of a crime scene on his premises, a scene labeled "the killing floor." But that's not all. David also hears noises at night, like people skulking around in the rooms. Finally, he learns that somebody is actually spying on him full time and taking pictures of him! Needless to say, he's about out of his mind with anxiety by the time things come to a head.
Not only do we get a ton of suspicious happenings, we get a ton of suspicious characters to go along with them. There's Jared Thurber (Jeffrey Carlson), the looney who thinks he should have inherited David's penthouse from his father and on several occasions threatens David about the matter. There's Audrey Levine (Reiko Aylesworth), David's pretty downstairs neighbor, who has heard "stories" about the penthouse's former owner. There's Garret Rankin (Derek Cecil), David's onetime best friend, a person David left in the lurch in a business deal and who now clearly resents him. There's Rebecca Fry (Sheri Appleby), David's assistant, a cute-as-a-button but oddly plain-Jane young woman who's always around the periphery of the action. And there's Detective Martin Soll (John Bedford Lloyd), a tough NYPD cop helping David sort out his various troubles.
Of the various actors in the film, each makes a distinct impression. Blucas as the lead has a sort of Daniel Craig look and demeanor about him, and we know his character is cool because he always sports a stylish two-day stubble on his face. More important, though, is Lloyd's detective, a wonderfully hard-boiled type, the epitome of what most of us picture as a big-city undercover cop. While the other actors are also competent enough, these two dominate the picture.
Moreover, the director does what he can with the limited budget he's handed. Although almost 90% of the action takes place in David's penthouse digs, director Raff makes the most of every dark, shadowy corner and creates a respectably noir look for the film.
But eventually the ludicrous plot undermines the decent acting and effective atmosphere. In the movie's first half, the tension rises acceptably as we begin wondering just what in the heck is going on with David's world. But then seeming coincidences build on seemingly more coincidences; and when we start to unravel the plot complications, they seem less and less plausible. Uninvited and unwelcome people come and go in David's apartment as though the elevator to his living room were permanently open to the public and had a welcome sign on it. And story twists, false clues, and misleading information abound. It's one of those movies that asks us to accept everything as crystal clear and oh-so-real, yet we can see in an instant that none of it makes any sense and could never happen in actual day-to-day life because it's all so preposterous and far-fetched.
By the time the characters in "The Killing Floor" arrive at a pig farm with a hatchet in hand, I'd say even the most patient viewer will have lost all interest in the silly goings on. However, if you think the film might interest you, be aware that the ratings board gave it an R for "violent and disturbing content, language, and some sexuality." Those are probably its best points.
The video engineers at ThinkFilm do everything they can to make the film look as good as possible on DVD, but I doubt they had the best material to work with. They use a high-bit-rate, anamorphic transfer for the widescreen, 1.85:1-ratio movie, yet the best they can do is replicate some bright, deep, vivid colors. In the meantime, definition suffers, as it is a bit on the soft side; darker scenes look murky, sometimes admitting little inner detail; and a mild but obvious grain adds a touch of grittiness to almost every frame.
There's not much to say about the audio. ThinkFilm reproduce the sonics in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, but there isn't a lot of difference between them. Dialogue makes up the bulk of the soundtrack, so what you get in both cases is mainly center-channel activity. There are a few subtle ambient sounds in the surrounds, things like crowd noises, and a little nondescript background music. Not even the frequency range or dynamics provide much cheer. Fortunately, the midrange is clear, clean, and quiet, so there's nothing to complain about, really.
There isn't much to speak of in the extras department, either. There's a two-minute theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen and a trailer gallery for five other ThinkFilm releases. That's about it. There are also sixteen scene selections but no chapter insert; English as the only spoken language; Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
I wish "The Killing Floor" had gone in a halfway believable direction instead of weirding out on us and getting all harebrained and exaggerated at the end. The movie sets us up for a really killer payoff and then wimps out with a resolution so absurd, it just leaves us saying "Oh, come on...!" Nevertheless, the movie builds a reasonable sense of forboding in its first half, and that's better than a lot of films offer.