Graphic Horror: Whiteout
Kicking off this month in Graphic Horror is a film that I hadn’t really heard about before making my superhero and comic book movie list. It came out in 2009 and starred Kate Beckinsale playing a US Marshall in Antarctica. The movie isn’t so much a horror movie, but it’s definitely a thriller. There’s a murder plot, paranoia, and lots and lots of snow. The mystery unfolds in a generally satisfying, but ultimately predictable way, and the film stretches the incredulity of life in Antarctica on the verge of winter. It’s not anywhere near a bad movie, but it’s definitely a forgettable one which makes me realize that it’s not that surprising that I had never heard of it before now.
The premise revolves around the discovery of a murder just a few days before the Antarctic winter which lasts a full six months with no traffic in or out until it’s over. Beckinsale plays a good cop who is dealing with some personal issues from her past and took the position thinking it would be an easy one with no homicides. Along the way she’s joined by the Spirit himself Gabriel Macht, sent by the UN to help her with the investigation. The killer also happens to still be on the loose, and only attacks while wearing full snow gear which covers him from head to toe and makes him impossible to identify. The theory is that it leads to an ever present feeling of paranoia similar to another Antarctica-based movie the Thing, but it never really handles it as deftly as the John Carpenter film. Instead it’s used more of a distraction, causing her to distrust those around her momentarily before deciding she can trust them again.
One of the biggest nitpicks in this film is the inconsistent handling of the Antarctic cold. While there are a few great moments that highlight the extreme cold of the situation, like a cup of water that freezes nearly instantaneously when spilled, to Beckensale’s hand freezing when it comes into contact with bare metal. The rest of the time, it’s completely normal for them to be out in extreme sub-zero temperatures without anything covering their faces, unless it’s the killer whose face can’t be seen lest it reveal their identity. The understanding is that the audience needs to see Beckinsale’s face, but her nose doesn’t even start to turn red. The wind is also rather inconsistent where during the climax it can literally blow them off their feet unless they are holding the guide rope, but has little effect once they have grabbed hold.
The tone of the film is also fairly inconsistent, starting off with a very lighthearted view of the camp following the back of Beckensale’s head, for some reason, before having her shed off all her clothes and have a very PG rated shower scene. When the murder plot comes into play, it often quickly shifts between the slower paced revelations of the murder mystery to the quick pace of a thriller when there is a man with an ice ax out for blood. The transitions between the two feel rather wasted, having neither the shock to the system that could come into play when a killer comes out of nowhere, nor having a smoother transition between the two. The result is that it does feel confused with what type of movie it wants to be, rather than a blend of multiple genres. It doesn’t help that the thriller portion is very generic and under used, just like the hints of paranoia.
When Gabriel Macht’s Robert Pryce shows up, the suspicion is immediately cast upon him. He shows up very quickly after the murder was called in, and while Beckinsale was unconscious from her run in with the killer. There’s also hints of suspicion with several of the other characters on the station that Beckinsale comes in contact with, but most of them end up being free to leave when the last few flights are heading out for good. It’s not until it comes down to the last few remaining people on the base that it does become fairly clear who is the conspirator, but when he is confronted it culminates in one of the most baffling moments I’ve ever seen. He confesses to his crimes, which don’t directly involve any murders, and sacrifices himself to the elements in a huge WTF moment that may have been an attempt at being a profound character moment, but instead came off as just something absurd.
When a film is named Whiteout, it’s no surprise that there is a lot of white to be found. But except for a few instances, it never really sold the reality of the vast icy desert of Antarctica, nor the possibly claustrophobic camps. There is almost an attempt at bringing in a variation on the color palette when we get to see some of Beckinsale’s flashbacks in an odd overly-yellow sepia tone. The intention may have been to give it a feeling of heat to contrast with the stark coldness of the South Pole, but there was something about it that just felt too off. One of the best scenes in the film is when three of the characters are stuck in an old airplane buried underneath the ice. It’s a nice character building moment, as well as a good case of problem solving. Unfortunately, there were too few of these scenes. Again, in the end there are many things to like about this film, and most of the problems are not very major. The biggest issue is that it just doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts and when all is said and done, the film ultimately falls fairly flat. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.