Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Alex O'Loughlin
Directed by Dominic Sena
I’m pretty sure I’m psychic. It’s either that or movies are becoming so seriously predictable that you can suss out who the Big Bad is just from watching a thirty-second preview. It’s probably the latter, but the psychic thing sounds much cooler so I’m going to go with that.
In case your Magic 8 ball is telling you to ASK AGAIN LATER, let me tell you what Whiteout is about. Antarctica is very, very fucking cold, and nobody, but nobody, lives there year-round. However, there are scientific research outposts dotting the landscape, filled with a regular rotation of workers. At the Amundsen-Scott camp near the South Pole, US Marshall Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) and Dr. John Fury (Skerritt) are just about to rotate off the continent for good – she to a new career, he to spend quality time with his young granddaughter. Of course, before they can escape the frozen wasteland, somebody discovers a body out on the ice, and the two have to go investigate. Now, with less than two days before a major storm hits and traps them all on the frigid continent for six months of darkness, Carrie has to solve the mystery and catch the killer.
If only. The movie starts off fairly well, fifty years ago inside a Russian plane flying above the icy expanse of Antarctica. The group of, maybe soldiers?, in the back of the cargo plane are guarding a triple-locked box, which the pilots attempt to steal in a double-cross. I think I know why these guys were given Antarctic plane duty - because these mental giants proceed to have a shootout while in mid-air. The ensuing fire fight sees the pilot’s brains blown all over the cockpit and sends them crashing into the ice, killing everyone who isn’t already riddled with bullets. Cut to present day and a group of geologists hunting for meteors rediscover the wreckage buried in the ice, including the mysterious box. Instead of reporting it, they decide they’re going to cash in on its secrets. One of the group gets greedy, and pretty soon people are dying. Don’t worry; I know this may seem like I’m spoiling things, but we the viewers – and Marshall Stetko – figure all this out pretty quickly. Which is part of the problem.
I read several other reviews of the movie before deciding to go see it, reviews from well known publications like Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times. They were all pretty negative. They talked about how bad the dialogue was, how gratuitous Beckinsale’s shower scene was, how improbable her soft skin and unmussed hair was, among other concerns about scoring and editing. Several of them even mentioned the "big twist you see coming a mile away". All these concerns are window dressing. The dialogue wasn’t terrible, though at times it was a bit silly. The acting wasn’t awful either. The characters were written incredibly shallowly and were given next to nothing to do, but the actors did a fair job of portraying these cardboard cut-outs. There was a bit of shaky cam, and a few quick edits, but neither was over-used, and the score was pretty decent. Nothing to write home about, sure, but it was passable.
Not one of those issues touches what is the film’s biggest shortcoming ... that the filmmakers completely squandered every single opportunity to create a sense of dread or tension. Everything happened too quickly or came too easily to the characters. Once the first body is discovered, it’s mere minutes until he’s identified thanks to a handy ID badge, and then we move quickly to a mysterious phone call from one of the other members of his camp, a quick investigation of said camp by Stetko, and then the first appearance of our ice axe-wielding killer. It began to look as if we were going to see each member of Camp Amundsen-Scott picked off one by one in various snowy locales by a sundry of arctic implements – like a slasher on ice. I was cool with that. But then BAM! Killer revealed, plan revealed, betrayal revealed, the end. It feels as if they shot the movie from the outline of a script rather than the script itself. They just hit the major points and didn’t flesh anything out.
The 96-minute runtime consists of a story that is flesh and bones. Nothing is deeper than the thinnest veneer. Situations and circumstances that should provoke emotional responses are greeted with little to no reaction. At one point Stetko, a pilot named Delfy (Columbus Short), and UN special investigator Robert Pryce (Macht) are investigating the buried Russian plane when a collapse of ice entombs them. All three stare at the blocked door for a moment before Stetko tries her radio. Nada, of course. “No one knows we're down here,” she says calmly. “Don’t remind me,” Delfy replies back. Neither one of them seems overly bothered by this fact, nor is Pryce as he casually remarks that they’re more likely to suffocate before anyone can dig them out. “We’re fucked,” someone offers. And yet, not a single one of them panics or gets mad or freaks out.
In the same regard, we are offered Macht’s character as both a tepid romantic interest for Stetko and a slightly suspicious possible red herring. Neither aspect of his role is handled well. The “romance” involves a single scene of rah-rah "I know you’re strong" pep talk and sweater buttoning, and the suspicious guy angle really only stems from his appearance just after Stetko is attacked by the masked killer. And the “twist” all those reviews said you could see coming a mile away? There is no twist. You can see the ending coming from a mile away because it’s a straight line from the beginning. Director Dominic Sena (Swordfish, Gone in 60 Seconds, Kalifornia) and all four screenwriters merely connected point A to point B. I don’t know if it’s the relative inexperience of screenwriting brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber, whose only other writing credit is a 1998 gangster film called Montana, or the genre shallowness of screenwriting brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, who gave us 2005’s House of Wax and 2007’s The Reaping, but the story here was paper thin. I haven’t read the graphic novel the film was based on, but I can’t believe it was this simplistic.
Whiteout is not awful, but it is maddeningly mediocre. Had the writers taken more time to give the story some real meat on its bones, and the director taken advantage of the beautifully barren climate to build tension and suspense, this could have been a really good movie. But they didn’t and it’s not. If you were to ask me to use my psychic powers to predict whether or not the majority of horror fans would enjoy Whiteout, I would have to say: OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD.
2 out of 5
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