“A mind-bending, satisfyingly twisty yarn. “
Just when it was beginning to look like science fiction had passed the 72nd EIFF by, writer/director Paul Raschid’s White Chamber steps in to save the day for futureheads. Opening with the simple title card: “The United Kingdom… Soon,” the film continues down the near-future-commentary path from then on and delivers a mind-bending, satisfyingly twisty yarn.
Shauna Macdonald turns in a layered performance as the film’s lead, a woman who wakes up in the eponymous, blindingly fluorescent white chamber, itself a barbaric torture device that can perform essentially any sadistic physical torment imaginable. Her captor, unidentifiable due to the muffled microphone, alternates between forcing her to endure extreme heat, unbearable cold, an electrified floor, and other revolting cruelties. Honestly, if the film had continued a second longer in this vein, this would be an abject failure of a story. The tortures are tasteless, the female victim a tired trope, and the faceless evil outside more irritatingly anonymous than intriguingly so.
But Raschid, as the film’s next few moments make clear, knows all this. I was lucky enough to catch a Q&A with him after the film, and he elaborated that the crude, done-to-death beats of the beginning scenes are intentionally unoriginal, because he wanted to twist the genre on its head in a fresh, new way. Without revealing his methods, suffice it to say that’s exactly what he accomplishes, with a great deal of wit and some deeply satisfying plotting. This is a film that is particularly hard to review in much detail, as most of the meat of the plot is one huge spoiler. So, without giving it all away, let me just recommend you give Raschid’s film a try for yourself.
In some regards, the film is relatively entry-level in its ultimate messaging and character work. Certain individuals experience arcs that are somewhat predictable, and certain scenes end exactly how you expected them to end ten minutes ago when they began. Numerous shots, as well, are bland and flat, an approach which, of course, reflects the feeling of the sterile chamber, and what lies beyond, but starts to feel too uninteresting a background. Thankfully, many of the assembled performers, especially the impressively talented Oded Fehr, make up for the film’s few shortcomings, and make White Chamber, though hard to watch at times, and possibly too clever for its own good in one or two moments, a compact sci-fi thriller worth exploring. For fans of tight, witty sci-fi escapades, this is not one to miss.
Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 22 June)
Go to White Chamber at the EIFF