Paul Raschid / UK / 2018 / 89 mins
As part of Edinburgh International Film Festival
This dystopian sci-fi film about a Britain at war with rebel militia opens with Elle (Shauna Macdonald) waking up to find herself imprisoned in a white room. A distorted voice (Oded Fehr) interrogates Elle whilst subjecting her to various forms of torture. However, all is not as it seems when the voice reveals that he knows Elle’s real identity..
The film begins promisingly, with the opening sequence proving effective both due to Macdonald convincingly portraying Elle’s growing fear and distress and the impressive visual effects conveying the various methods of torture (CGI heat haze and frost are used to portray the room reaching extreme temperatures). In addition to Macdonald, the supporting cast provide strong performances, with Nicholas Farrell giving the character of an older scientist a paternal air, while Amrita Acharia makes newcomer scientist Ruth’s increasing suspicion believable.
However, the narrative falls flat when it comes to establishing its fictional dystopian world as well as its themes of the ethics of torture and discrimination. This is in large part due to the dialogue, which conveys these narrative elements through chunks of clunky exposition and political statements in what are supposed to be naturalistic conversations. As a result, the dialogue and dystopian setting come across as unconvincing and the important political themes feel tacked on and unclear. One particular example is the film’s pro-refugee sentiments, which appear to come out of nowhere at its conclusion. In addition, Fehr’s over the top performance detracts from his character’s intended intimidating and crazed nature, with his manic episodes in particular coming across as humorous and disrupting the film’s otherwise serious tone.
Whilst White Chamber is visually impressive given its low budget, its poor dialogue and handling of its main themes sadly undermine its intentions, resulting in the final product coming across as an hour and a half-long missed opportunity.