Ever since the Enola Gay dropped the instrument of mass death code-named “Little Boy” on Hiroshima in August 1945, our shared global society has become increasingly eschatological in its imagination. Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, a Bomb-induced apocalypse shaped art, literature and culture in massive, immeasurable ways. In the ‘70s, with the growing environmental movement and the meltdown at Three Mile Island, the nature of our impending doom shifted. Today, of course, we still live on the edge of the end of civilization, but instead of mushroom cloud nightmares, we tremble at the imminent climate collapse as the eschatological trigger.

This is what makes White Chamber a bit unusual among post-apocalyptic works. It is set in a near-future, dystopian (of course, as it is essential to the genre) to the core, where the United Kingdom is in the midst of a brutal civil war. Here’s the weird part: the war is entirely sociopolitical. The rebels, the UK Liberation Army (UKLA), represent the non-white British population rising up against the unjust, repressive UK government. It is a race war, triggered by the xenophobia of Brexit rather than climate catastrophe, giving the story a flavor that is not so much new as it is refreshingly different in 2019, something of a love child between Children of Men and The Purge, at least thematically.

The UKLA rebellion is mere context for White Chamber’s plot, with only a few details about the broader war leaking through. The real story in the film involves Elle Chrystler and “Citizen-General” Zakarian interacting over a twist-filled five days deep in the dungeons of some government black site. The eponymous white chamber is a specially-designed prison cell where an operator has absolute control over the environmental effects experienced by her captor; it can be rendered brutally hot, freezing cold, riven with high-pitched noise, laced with acid dripping from the ceiling or quite pleasant, all at the touch of a button. It resembles the real-life torture chambers the British used in Northern Ireland, but its incredible functionality is the wet dream of the guys who designed the chambers used to punish IRA members.

This is a good setup for some fifteen-years-out-of-style torture porn (Saw came out in 2004, followed by Hostel in 2005) that is, at least in the first act, very thin on narrative while being heavy on screaming cast members. The gratuitous, quite lengthy torture sequence with which White Chamber opens does abate into flashback, allowing for some real plot development. It would be an injustice to any potential viewer of the film to say more about where the film’s story goes, because the transition between each act involves a significant plot twist, none of which should be spoiled here.

Like so many horror (or horror-adjacent) films, White Chamber wants to grapple with broader themes of real importance by using its story premise as the parameters of an experiment. What is the acceptable limit of behavior that can be justified in the pursuit of security? Is peace really just a widely-accepted compromise between most members/groups in a society, an absence of open, violent disagreement? These are the sorts of questions White Chamber addresses, but only in the thinnest and most superficial way. There is not enough plot on the bones of the story to truly experiment with answers to these fundamental queries. Why writer/director Paul Raschid decided to put dorm room-at-midnight-level philosophical puzzling in his Brexit allegory of a film is difficult to discern, but White Chamber knows well enough that its core audience is drawn to the brutal, brazen cruelty of its action set pieces to get bogged down in deep thinking. Come for the torture horror, eye-roll through the philosophizing and brace yourself for the twists: White Chamber is that kind of film.

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