'White Chamber': Film Review

White Chamber  Still 1 - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Dark Sky Films
As stiff as its pristine laboratory setting.

A scientist is tortured with her own invention in Paul Raschid's near-future sci-fi film.

Where are Captain America and Wolverine when you need them? Those scientifically enhanced soldiers turned do-gooders would have something to say about the goings-on in Paul Raschid's White Chamber, where a government scientist is trying to refine a super-amphetamine that will enable the British military to fend off a rebel army. Such experiments have a way of going awry; this time out, the lead scientist (Shauna Macdonald's Elle Chrysler) ends up being tortured with her own creations. In a single bare-bones location that would lend itself to sci-fi brainteasers, White Chamber instead offers a straightforward morality play that could use a little pulpy wit in its script. Sure, bringing Wolverine's old comrade Deadpool onto the scene would be way off-base; but just about any other kind of shake-up would be welcome in this promising but inert genre pic.

After a quick prologue offering a glimpse of the United Kingdom Liberation Army's reasons for rebellion (Theresa May will be relieved to learn she's not one of them), we move to the interior of an all-white jail cell, where Chrysler awakens in a panic. When an electronically altered voice begins to interrogate her, she claims to be an "admin girl" named Ruth, who knows nothing of the experiments this cell was designed for. Whether he believes her or not, her captor quickly figures out how to use the thing — blasting her with intense heat and cold, electrifying the metal floor, dripping acid from the ceiling.

Cut to five days ago, before Dr. Chrysler's experiment was disturbed. She has imprisoned the leader of the UKLA, a Kurdish immigrant named Zakarian (Oded Fehr), and is using that box's pain-giving capability to test the drug's effect on him: Zakarian feels no pain when coked up, but he crashes hard when the drug wears off and quickly becomes addicted. Principled and dignified, he uses his sober moments to question his unidentified captor's ethics.

The scientist has personal reasons not to engage with his arguments, but there's a more impartial observer in the lab: A new researcher, this one actually named Ruth (Amrita Acharia), quickly becomes disturbed by her boss' ruthlessness. As the days tick by and Chrysler continues to torture Zakarian, we suspect Ruth's conscience will be Elle's downfall.

Raschid has a budget-friendly setting and a capable cast, but his dialogue is stiffly functional, doing nothing more than laying out characters' motivations and dropping occasional hints at what he has planned for the climax. The actors do what they can with this slim material, but there's much less tension between the characters than the premise demands, and what twists the script does possess arrive too late to matter much. The maybe/maybe not Eve of Brexit may be a tough time to sell an imaginary look at Britain on the brink, but White Chamber wouldn't be much more gripping even under ideal circumstances.

Production company: Aviary Films
Distributor: Dark Sky Films
Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Oded Fehr, Amrita Acharia, Sharon Maughan, Nicholas Farrell, Candis Nergaard
Director-screenwriter: Paul Raschid
Producer: Neville Raschid
Director of photography: Glen Warrilow
Production designer: Lucy Gahagan
Costume designer: Britt Cormack, Lina Motsiou
Editor: Alex Martin
Composer: John Harle
Casting director: Liz Bichard

88 minutes