The Steam Experiment (2009)


aka The Chaos Experiment

USA. 2009.


Director/Producer – Philippe Martinez, Screenplay – Rob Malkani, Photography – Erik Curtis, Music – Don MacDonald, Special Effects Supervisor – Kevin Hoekstra, Production Design – John Despres. Production Company – Cinepro Productions/Genius Productions/Indalo Productions/Steelbridge Finance LLC


Val Kilmer (James Pettis), Armand Assante (Detective Jack Mancini), Eric Roberts (Grant), Megan Brown (Catherine), Patrick Muldoon (Christopher), Cordelia Reynolds (Margaret), Eve Mauro (Jessie), Quinn Duffy (Frank), Ricky Wayne (Walter Grubbs), Doug Alchin (Lieutenant Clark)


James Pettis walks into the offices of The Grand Rapids Press in Michigan and insists on speaking to the newspaper’s editor. He demands that he be given the front page headline because he has imprisoned six people in a steam room as a statement against Global Warming and is slowly turning the heat up. The editor calls Detective Jack Mancini who takes James into custody and tries to ascertain whether his story is true or he is a crazy. It comes out that Pettis believes in the theories of a discredited crackpot professor who insisted that the world is going to dramatically heat up at the end of the Mayan Calendar – that Pettis may even be the same professor who has gone missing. Meanwhile, the six people, three men and three women, have been lured to the steam room via an internet dating site. Once there, they find themselves locked in. As the heat goes up to levels that are difficult to tolerate, the situation begins to affect them, resulting in violence and murder.

The Steam Experiment, known as The Chaos Experiment on dvd, was the third film as director for Philippe Martinez. A former theatre manager in France, Martinez moved to the US and became a film producer throughout the 1990s. He started directing with Citizen Verdict (2003) about a reality tv show that uses real court cases, followed by the revenge action film Wake of Death (2004) and the thriller Viktor (2014).

The Steam Experiment has a captivatingly original premise – a group of people are locked in a steam room by a crazed professor with the heat turned up as a statement about global warming – that sounds as it has been intended as a copy of Saw (2004). We get various scenes with the people trapped in the steam room trying to get out, sanities and tempers fraying and so on. Yet for all that, The Steam Experiment is not a film that much works at racking up psychological tension. There are not the fiendish twists and turns we expect of a Saw or one of its copies; dramatically, what goes on is very low key. In fact, much of the bulk of the drama in the film is taken up in the scenes between detective Armand Assante interviewing Val Kilmer in a police station and trying to determine if he is a crazy or really has placed six people in a steam room. Even then, the film fails to do much in the way of placing twists and turns on the interrogation and most of the drama of the film just sits there never seeming to go anywhere. The film reaches a disappointing washout of an ending.

What you have to admit is that Philippe Martinez has managed to bring together an amazing cast line-up for essentially a medium-budget indie film. In the frontseat is Val Kilmer, the former teen heartthrob whose high-rising career in the 1990s spun out after developing a reputation as difficult to work and has become known this side of the 2000s for the strange and weird roles he takes on. The initial scenes where Kilmer enters the newspaper offices have something captivating to them but by the latter half, Kilmer’s performance has degenerated into an annoyingly affected series of tics and grimaces. Armand Assante fares much better and gives a strong showing with the role of the old warhorse detective, the sort of part that would be mandatorily played by George C. Scott if he were still alive. There is also Eric Roberts, a prize B-movie actor for much of his career, who actually settles down and seems intent on doing some serious acting throughout.

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