Dark Castle’s most coherent film ever is neither a horror film, nor bug-eyed monster movie, nor wholehearted slasher film but a reworking of Outland (1981) set at the bottom of the world. This time the flawed sheriff of the former is one Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), an emotionally scarred detective who chose a top cop assignment in Antarctica after her partner in Miami double-crossed her during a drug arrest.
With trust issues, Carrie’s situation worsens when she tries to solve a bizarre murder while the base is hastening a massive evacuation as a whiteout (really big snow storm) is on the way. Aided by the local medic (Tom Skerrit), a pilot named Delfy (Columbus Short), and Russell Haden (Gabriel Macht), a UN inspector who may or may not be in on the killings, the quartet move their investigation from an isolated mountain plateau where the first body was found to a Cold War Soviet plane, buried in snow with bullet-ridden cadavers and a peculiar metal box with recently disturbed contents.
With the good doctor staying behind at the main base, the trio hop over to the old Soviet base of Vostok to interrogate a suspect, only to lose him to an ax-wielding killer. Eventually the mystery is unraveled when the quartet stay behind for the long Antarctic winter, find the stolen goods, and a trusted friend is at the center of a bloody mess.
As a mystery, Whiteout is very straightforward and isn’t hard to solve, given whole scenes have been borrowed from other films. The pre-credit teaser that shows the Soviet plane crashing is a reworking of the boat sinking in the opening of The Deep (1977), and in place of stolen drug ampules, the craft’s mystery cargo is uncut diamonds.
Like Outland (itself derived from the fifties western High Noon), the lone sheriff doesn’t get much respect from the local grunts and isn’t very happy when the job becomes complex. During the investigation, witnesses die, and it becomes harder to trust close associates, be it the genial doctor, the helpful UN agent, the pilot, or fellow grunts. When the mystery cargo is finally discovered, it’s packed in the cadavers of the murder victims – identical to Outland’s revelation where the drugs packed in the bodies of drug addicts in the moon’s mortuary.
The only distinguishing aspect of Whiteout is the friendship between Carrie and the doctor, which the actors manage to pull off with palpable sympathy. Beckinsale makes her bruised character compelling in spite of Dominic Sena’s overuse of flash-backs - heavy-handed attempts to give added mystery to Carrie’s past, if not remind dumber audience members Exactly What Happened Back In Miami! In the case of the doctor, his need for greed began as a simple, innocent plan to retrieve a bunch of stones until the greed of others morphed into serial violence.
The threat of the whiteout gives the story a time-limit, and the duress also pushes the killer closer to the investigators, even though the fast trekking through bad weather is tough to believe, as is the sudden breakout of Carrie’s temporary prisoner. A chase during the edges of the whiteout is well-handled, and Stuart Baird (Die Hard) is credited as supervising editor on the film which has decent production values in spite of the wobbly plane shots that look like CGI toys.
The film’s major flaws lie in the unremarkable story adapted from a graphic novel by Steve Lieber and Greg Rucka (Batman: Gothic Knight), as well as some factual issues – such as bare skin exposure to -55 wind chill that never leads to frostbite, ruin Carrie’s lipstick or turn her pale British skin tomato red; and being able to restart vehicles and planes that have been sitting on flat, wind-swept surfaces with -55 degree wind. (When it’s at its coldest, planes need to keep their engines running to prevent the grease from freezing.)
The DVD’s only extras are a pair of deleted scenes, or rather scene extensions. The first has Carrie’s walk through a lab being interrupted by a bonehead wanting her to arrest coworkers for stealing his hothouse weed; and the second shows Carrie, Delfy, and the UN agent offering frozen goods (frozen meat, VHS porn) to the Russian staff at Vostok.
The second scene obviously slowed down the tempo of an already moderately paced thriller, but it did show Vostok as being inhabited, something absent in the final cut where the group find their suspect in what’s apparently an abandoned base. (On the other hand, removing the scene at least explains why no one comes to the group’s aid when the killer chases them around with an ax.)
The lack of any standard extras means no one particularly cared about this release, and one senses the film was shoved onto DVD while the film’s brief theatrical run was still in them minds of horror fans. The film’s vague trailer was a cheat, because it made it appear as though Whiteout was some kind of killer-thingy movie assaulting an isolated community.
Sena’s prior films include Swordfish (2001) for Dark Castle’s co-producer Joel Silver, as well as the Fox TV pilot 13 Graves (2006), which coincidentally dealt with treasure hunters. Co-writer Chad Hayes also contributed to Dark Castle’s poopy The Reaping (2007), and the above-average slasher House of Wax (2005).
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan