Life can be a grind sometimes. You get up in the morning at the same time every day, shower, shave and brush your teeth the exact same way, grab your trusty coffee cup off the counter and snatch your keys from the same place on the coffee table, then it’s out the door and off to work at the same fluorescent jungle, doing the same thing, every day. It’s “…the same ol’ song and dance!” as businessman/rat-in-the-rat race Gary Whitmoore (Brian Krow) puts it.
Yet, that’s all about to change for Gary. Not dramatically, at first; just little things. The alarm rings a half-hour later. A fresh tube of toothpaste replaces his crumpled up used one. His keys aren’t quite where he always leaves them.
Then there are a few more dramatic moments, like when the genial hostess at his coffee shop suddenly doesn’t recognize him, or when he catches his best friend (Allen Scotti) and his girlfriend Claire (Susan Lily) whispering conspiratorially about him…just a little too closely together for comfort. Oh, yeah. There’s also the slight matter of his abduction by the three mysterious men in black. That’s a little unusual, especially when he wakes up in a featureless white room, surrounded by a colorful cross section of society, all wandering aimlessly about the room and muttering to themselves.
It’s all a bit much for Gary, who seems to crack under the strain — wouldn’t you if you realized you were literally having a conversation with yourself? – and the only treatment involves being shackled to the wall and injected with…something.
This is all creepy and unnerving stuff, and writer/director Laurie Lee Goretski is to be commended for capturing Gary’s not-quite-right world within the constricted space of a short film. Little things matter in a short, and she’s filled “The White Room” with plenty of them: The way the three henchmen march in lockstep unison, briskly squaring off their turns; the colorful and exotic casting of Gary’s fellow White Roommates, such as the Native American chieftain, the sleazy prostitute, and the angelic Asian-Indian woman who seems to be responsible for launching Gary’s adventure; Claire’s over-the-top sultriness; the dead-leg limping of all those around Gary once his “real” world starts changing; all of these things create an atmosphere that is far richer and more textured than that found in most short films.
Where “The White Room” comes up short is in its storytelling. We’re never quite sure if this is all some sort of concoction in Gary’s fractured mind. Are the three goons – or some unseen superior – causing that fracture with their injections in the dungeon? Who are Gary’s companions in the room and, for that matter, who are his friend and Claire, really? Goretski’s film leaves so many questions unanswered or at least open to speculation.
Now, I’m aware that this is one of those subjective films, deliberately left open to speculation and interpretation. If I watched the film three or four times, its meaning might become clear or I might take different things away from it each time, kinda like with poetry.
Which is why I’m not crazy about poetry.
“The White Room” is a stylistic and visual success, which is the good news. The bad news is that as a narrative, it comes up short. Or more accurately, it leaves us like Gary, hanging shackled to a wall and wondering just what the hell is going on.