WHITE CHAMBER *** UK 2018 Dir: Paul Raschid. 89 mins
A grim Brexit-era sci-fi movie using the visual language of early 21st century horror: the woke-up-in-a-strange-room-and-harassed-by-a-mystery-puppet-master gambit of the torture movie cycle and acid-scarred, feral characters frantically chomping off their own fingers like the “Rage” victims of the 28 DAYS / WEEKS LATER movies.
The economy of the set-up and story suggest key influences included everything from original TWILIGHT ZONE episodes to one-location low budget gems like CUBE and EXAM. Ominously set in the “United Kingdom, Soon”, it posits a near-future where the country is ravaged by civil war and under martial law. “Admin girl” Shauna Macdonald wakes up in a bright white, cuboid chamber in which she is subjected to extremes of temperature, aural torture and electrocution. Her Kurdish captor (Oded Fehr) uses Pinochet-inspired tactics and demands answers she claims not to have.
Although the movie relies on stock footage to convey the civil unrest beyond its budget, the concept of Britain beset with mass unemployment, a failed health care system and rampant xenophobia isn’t hard to imagine. The dialogue may be a little on the nose (“Having a foreign name marks you for persecution”) but this isn’t a time for subtlety anyway. The story performs a compelling thematic shift early on as it backtracks to five days earlier, allowing the always excellent Macdonald to essay a more complicated character than initially appears. Writer-director Raschid keeps it taut and tense, punctuating the story with gallows humour, throat-ripping violence and a dose of the nihilism of Romero-era American horror. It doesn’t quite follow through with the final act punch demanded by the build-up, but it’s still a gripping calling card for the young filmmaker.
Review by Steven West