[Review] White Chamber

The United Kingdom in some vague time called “Soon,” is where White Chamber is set. It’s a country divided by civil war, with the remnants of a potentially fascist government fighting against a rebel army that wants to free Britain from some kind of tyrannical rule. We’re told all of this through a gritty voice over set what appears to be a propagandist commercial before we’re introduced to a woman played by Shauna Macdonald (The Descent!). She’s unconscious is a very white room with metallic floors and ceiling, peppered with small holes.

She awakens, blood dried on her forehead and starts to panic. But there’s seemingly no way out. “Hungry?” a vaguely male robotic voice asks and one of the panels in the wall slides out to reveal a chocolate candy bar. She’s cautious about the food but also starving. The voice asks if she remembers who she is and how she got here.

She remembers delivering a document. She says her name is Ruth. She’s just an admin gril; makes coffee, runs deliveries. All of a sudden, heat starts pouring in from the ceiling, hot enough to melt the chocolate and instantly cause her to sweat. What does he want? Answers, he responds before falling into a coughing fit. He follows up by making the room freezing to the point of hypothermia. He doesn’t believe her answers. And he says that the purpose of the room it to break a person’s resolve.

This is further evidenced by another drawer opening that contains a severed hand. He’s not afraid to get primative, he tells her. “What was going on here?” he asks again before blasting her with incredibly high-pitched sounds. The man behind the robotic voice reveals himself to be the leader of the rebels, General Zakarian (Oded Fehr). And finally the woman named “Ruth” relents and begins to talk.

After this gruesome opening, we’re transported to five days later and see the events that lead to this event. I originally thought the story would be set entirely in this white chamber and I was worried how it would stretch the story to an hour and a half. But the world opens a bit after the abrupt beginning. And what follows is a story about the political version of the UK and about drug trials and the desire for the government to create the perfect army to fight against the rebels.

Our entry point into this world is another woman named Ruth (Amrita Acharia), who has been promoted to work on the drug trials. And so we see the events mostly through her eyes as she watches the cruelty on display and begins to question her resolve. At this point, the script becomes pretty cliche-ridden. Evil and maniacal scientists spout lines about not trusting Ruth’s faith.

Unfortunately, we don’t really get a sense of either the government’s ineptitude and fascism nor the rebel’s apparently righteous cause. It’s pretty wishy-washy and for a movie that seems to be a political sci-fi thriller, there’s a dearth of information supporting either’s claim, outside of perceived zenophobia. White Chamber seems more interested in genre trappings that using them in any interesting socio-political way.

It’s never boring, but it is frustrating. Especially when you take into consideration the star power attached to it. Oded Fehr provides stoic resolve, even though he’s saddled with machismo lines like “C’mon, hurt me!” Shauna Macdonald, meanwhile, plays her cards close to her chest in the beginning before going full-on mad scientist. And Amrita is given very little, outside of being our cypher for the events. There’s no subtlety to the writing.

The finale is supposed to provide some kind of cathartic release and be meaningful. But when the preceding 90 minutes is lacking in thematic meaning, it kind of falls flat. It’s unfortunate because I really was into the beginning of this.

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