The United Kingdom. Soon. Civil war rages. A woman wakes up in a blindingly white cuboid cell. Using its sophisticated functionality, her captor tortures her for information; information she claims not to have - or does she?
It’s usually easy to work around potential spoilers in a review. Simply refrain from shouting out the big reveal, right?
But what if the film starts out with specific information, at a particular point in the story’s timeline? What if the story goes back and forth in said timeline – beginning somewhere in the later, more intense depths of the story?
Well, it’s clear that the filmmakers behind the new sci-fi/horror/political thriller, White Chamber (which held its Utah premiere at last month’s 5th Annual FilmQuest in Provo, Utah) don’t want those uninitiated to the film, to know too much. So much so, that the actors on the IMDb page – are listed without character names.
So for the purposes of this review, I’ll simply refer to performers as “actor’s character”. And I’ll do my best to not spill any secrets. And on that note, I’ll forego my usual colorful rendition of the film’s synopsis and simply copy/paste the mini-write-up directly from IMDb:
“The United Kingdom. Soon. Civil war rages. A woman (Shauna Macdonald) wakes up in a blindingly white cuboid cell. Using its sophisticated functionality, her captor tortures her for information, information she claims not to have — or does she?”
There. Now let’s discuss the gloriously political, wonderfully visceral and perfectly performed film, White Chamber.
First question. How could I not be excited to watch this?
I mean – Shauna Macdonald, “Sarah” of the 2005 horror insta-classic, The Descent – is the film’s lead.
And boy howdy – her work here does not disappoint.
The film starts out with Macdonald’s character in the titular chamber. She’s disoriented and looks a little beat up. And that’s about all I can tell you from a story standpoint. So let’s dig into the technical (I’ll choose my words carefully).
The film unfortunately was not nominated for FilmQuest’s Best Feature Ensemble award – but the strength of these five performances – both alone and as a group – was one of the film’s many highlights.
As I’ve frequently said before – ensemble casts generally have a weak link (they can’t all be perfect, right?) But in White Chamber, every one of these five leads nailed their characters.
Shauna Macdonald delivers just as much oomph and nuance as she brought to her aforementioned work in The Descent. But Sarah was a far more feeling character. Her character here keeps everything bottled up inside – with the exception of a few amazing breaks in the character’s facade. And this bit of recent news only helps to make my case that Macdonald is utterly fantastic in this film: she was nominated for a BAFTA Scotland award this year, for Best Lead Actress for this film. Exactly.
I’m not super familiar with Oded Fehr’s work (aside from his appearances in The Mummy and Resident Evil franchises) – but was quite impressed with what he brought to his character here. Without spoiling (boy, this is tough), he’s got multiple moments in the film (at one point violently reacting to some sort of hallucinogenic drug) to shine and the many levels he brings to the character – I bought every one of them. It’s a really terrific performance.
In the three supporting roles, Amrita Acharia, Sharon Maughan and Nicholas Farrell perfectly match the intense quality of the two leads – making for a true actor’s film. Other than Macdonald of course, I was most taken (was she my fave?) with the work of Maughan.
Visually, the film is stunning. I loved the cold, futuristic and antiseptic look (this would make an interesting screening partner with something like Logan’s Run or Westworld). Every camera angle and lighting choice seemed to mimic the sparseness of the chamber. The entire aesthetic had something of an elegant feel to it – despite the violent nature of what goes on in the film (and within the chamber itself).
In addition, it seems that every technical choice mirrored the emotionless exterior of Macdonald’s character. (Did I say too much?)
Makeup effects are all well done (the film received a “secret nomination” in this category at FilmQuest) – including some character run-ins with acid and some beautifully done gore.
The film’s central location was constructed in the main gathering area of a local school. Per writer/director Raschid, if you were to go through some of the doors just out of frame in the scenes, you’d end up in the school cafeteria.
As mentioned in the intro, there is a twist at the end and it’s certainly a good one. The film’s climax is nothing short of breathtaking – helped along by the authentic reactions to the events – from every one of these gifted actors. On that note, the build to the climax is brilliant. There’s always a sense of danger, from the situations to the potential reactions by the characters. And with the switching about on the story’s timeline, you’ll constantly be on edge. For a film to sustain such rich anxiety the entire time, well – that alone is worthy of some serious kudos.
Aside from the exceptional performances, the film’s strongest suit is what we’ve come to expect from any futuristic, pre-apocalypse story worth a darn – it’s a cautionary tale. And one which offers a realistic vision of something not far off – if we don’t change our ways now. Sadly, it wouldn’t be too difficult to see some of the more “outlandish” events contained within the film – as a possible reality today.
Finding placement in my “Best of Fest” at FilmQuest (check out my wrap-up of the fest here) – I can’t tout White Chamber’s quality filmmaking enough. Magnificent performances, delightful tension and gorgeous production values – it’s an easy recommendation.
At FilmQuest, as an Official Selection, it was also nominated for several of the festival’s plethora of awards. Nominations included: Best Director of a Feature – Paul Raschid, Best Actor in a Feature – Oded Fehr, Best Actress in a Feature – Shauna Macdonald, Best Supporting Actress in a Feature – Amrita Acharia, Best Editing in a Feature (WIN), Best Sound in a Feature and Best Production Design for a Feature.
I believe the film was also worthy of awards consideration for Best Feature Screenplay and Best Feature Film.
Finally – it’s always an interesting (and rare) response on my part, that with all of the films I see and review over a year’s time – at home, at press screenings, or in this case, at a film festival – which ones will continue to linger in my brain. Which films will eventually (upon their DVD/Bluray release) find their way into my permanent, physical collection?
I think that White Chamber is one of those films. And if repeat viewings are not only wanted, but practically necessary – isn’t that the highest referral one can give?
How did I do? Are you properly intrigued, but completely without spoilers/answers?
Okay then. Whew.
The film is still playing on the festival circuit, and no wider release information is yet available. But stay tuned for potential release dates, as this is an absolute “do not miss”!