A woman named Ruth awakens in a dazzlingly bright and empty room, and a sinister disembodied voice demands answers from her about the work being carried out in the research facility beyond it. Although she claims to be too lowly an employee to have any answers, her assertion is tested by the chamber’s myriad torture functions, only for the truth to be revealed as far more complex.
White Chamber initially shapes up to be a single-setting mystery, reminiscent of Cube in its apparent simplicity and overlying inscrutability, not to mention the shape of the confinement and built-in devices designed to inflict myriad types of pain and suffering via intense heat, freezing cold, gas vents, acid drips and electric shocks. However, this only accounts for the first twenty minutes or so, and after that the story jumps back several days to recount the events that lead up to the opening sequence, unequivocally answering all questions and stripping away any sense of mystery.
The film actually exists as a post-Brexit allegory, putting forward a suggestion of where this country is heading if it continues on the road of xenophobic isolationism it’s currently careering down with barely any consideration of the consequences, all delivered with the subtlety of a sack of bricks. Opening with faux newsreel footage of the descent into civil war brought about by government incompetence, the setting is hammered home.
The opening sequence of Ruth’s torture is an odd structural choice as it adds little to the story, and actually throws up a massive inconsistency that is only cleared up right at the film’s end. While it’s commendable to consciously subvert the tired genre trope of a helpless woman being brutalised by faceless malevolence, there doesn’t seem to be any other reason to order events in such a way.
The film asks questions about what is truly justified in the struggle for what you believe to be right, but makes no attempt to pick a side in the unseen conflict tearing the country apart. As the characters’ backgrounds and motivations are gradually revealed we get explanations of why they each believe the things they do, but the development doesn’t go any further than this. The argument creates an us-and-them mentality, with the two sides defined by who they have been taught to believe the enemy is, and tacit blame being placed at the door of those who believe their bigotry is vindicated by the country’s vote to shut itself off from the rest of the world.
White Chamber has a lot to say but difficulty in adequately articulating it. At its core it’s a perfectly adequate psychological thriller with an underlying message and tinged with several moments of compelling unpleasantness, but with greater cohesion and less overtly blunt observations it could have been so much more.
White Chamber / Cert: TBC / Director & Screenplay: Paul Raschid / Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Oded Fehr, Amrita Acharia, Nicholas Farrell, Sharon Maughan / Release Date: TBC