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White Chamber Movie Review

Written by Rachel Knightley

Released by Aviary Films

Written and directed by Paul Raschid
2018, 89 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest English Premiere on 26th August 2018

Starring:
Shauna Macdonald
Oded Fehr
Amrita Acharia
Sharon Maughan

White Chamber Poster

Review:

The United Kingdom. Soon. Civil war splits the country. From opening background shots of our green and pleasant land and the civil war destroying it, we are carried with a promisingly gripping level of tension to a blindingly white, technologically advanced prison cell. A woman (Shauna McDonald) with a head injury wakes, to be questioned and tortured by an unseen captor speaking through a voice synthesiser.  He tries to extract information through electric shocks, extreme temperatures and the exchange of awkward jokes. But the prisoner is only giving a name, “Ruth”, and rank: “I’m an admin girl”. We hope the conversation is deliberately unconvincing – what woman of her age in our present let alone this future would describe herself that way? – and further awkwardness abounds with attempted jokes that sit awkwardly with character voices, along with her very recognisable example of unthinking racism when she sees her captor’s face (“Where are you from?” “England.” “You know what I mean”). Visual realisation is strong in this opening sequence, but dialogue immediately destabilises our sense of this world.

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We’re grateful to flash back five days and find a potential reason this character and her powerlessness are so unconvincing. In this very same research science base with this white torture chamber at the centre, work is taking place on chemical solutions to end the civil war. There is indeed a Ruth (Amrita Acharia) who is the “brightest brain” pushed up from admin to assist the top scientists. But she is subordinate to McDonald (Eleanor). As the team of scientists, Acharia, McDonald, Sharon Maughan and particularly Nicholas Farrell find sympathetic performances within very limited dialogue and relationship confines. Oded Fehr, captured general and now victim, brings more sense of a heart at the centre of this world in his short goodbye to fellow-victim and lover, played by Candis Nergaard. Nergaard entirely transcends the confines of her role as token sexy victim, and along with make-up designer Hannah Wing, art department Elliot Coogan and visual effects department Taos Djouhri and Mo Mousavi she and Fehr bring moments of authenticity as well as the strongest visuals to this story.

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Writer-director Paul Raschid’s premise is full of good intentions but blurs in the telling. Supporting the plight of refugees and sympathising with all who find themselves taking on white, inward-looking establishment figures is worth writing about, but a deeper, truer voice must be connected with or issues become to big and too vague. As it stands, many issues around war and race are touched on but insufficiently deeply or clearly explored, making them feel like misused vehicles rather than causes. And stereotyping of one kind – the mad scientists – in a film that wishes to communicate the danger of estranging any group – is a particularly awkward choice. A reliance on exposition is the inevitable result of the underinvestment in characterisation, with final monologues for Fehr and McDonald in which certain underlying messages quite honestly seem to come out of nowhere. Whatever questions Raschid wanted to us to ask ourselves, he hasn’t asked enough questions of his characters and theme to let them speak with their own voice. What does come across gets repetitive rather than deeper.

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Grades:

Movie: Twostars White Chamber Small
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