Entertainment Weekly - 05/28/2004
"Shot on video, it's quiet and intimate....S21 testifies to the chilling ease with which ordinary men can cross the line into homicidal sadism."
Attempting to make peace between Cambodian torture survivors and the Khmer Rouge soldiers who brutalized them, the documentary S21: THE KHMER ROUGE KILLING MACHINE takes a close-up look at the the prison camps where this disturbing chapter of history took place in the mid-1970s. Using firsthand accounts from both victims and soldiers, the film is set in the now-deserted S21 detention center. While the victims are barely able to speak about their experiences without being brought to tears, the soldiers seem to snap into a robotic and emotionless zone when re-enacting their daily duties (which included beating and murdering innocent people). Using photos of the nearly 17,000 people who were killed by the Khmer Rouge at S21 between '75 and '77, as well as documentation of the "confessions" of the victims, it becomes starkly clear that neither the victims nor the soldiers had any idea why this happened. The soldiers were given orders and they followed them. The victims were brutally tortured until they made up stories of treason and espionage. A shocking and revealing look at a terrifying event, director Rithy Panh--who endured four years in a Khmer Rouge labor camp--has made a starkly memorable statement with this grueling film.