It begins promisingly, as we stroll through crowded streets of garish shops whose display windows combine fairy-tale kitsch with cyberpunky neon to alienating but convincing effect. We follow our subject as he angles towards one such establishment. It's exact function is unclear, but the clusters of vivacious young people eating, drinking and chatting suggest a space for late-night revelry of perhaps questionable wholesomeness.
We only catch enticing glimpses of the other patrons, though, for we are here with a purpose. Just inside the entrance, a large gilded model of a pagoda forms a centrepiece to the room. We kneel before it, not in obeisance but to focus on a small white door with a round brass handle, incongruously understated in such a gaudy setting. Drawing a slim brass key with a curious kink at the tip, we unlock the door and swing it open to reveal a similarly stark white cubic room. Though it's clearly too small, we thrust our head towards and, unreasonably, into it.
Are we still kneeling? Our attention is completely focused within these bright confines, lit so evenly that the angles where walls meet are nearly invisible. *Blink*.
There's a lurch, and when our eyes open we are standing beside a small swimming pool, the chlorinated air cloyingly humid in the mouth, orange sodium glancing off ripples to needle the corners of the eyes. Comprehension dawns. This is what the room is: a conduit to... anywhere? This pool looks familiar. It's your old school. Have we moved only in space?
*Blink*. Without warning, we are surrounded by figures, lurching across tiles and the surface of the water without distinction in a loose semi-circle focused on us. *Blink*. A squat, matt-black submachine gun sits heavy in each of our hands, and we calmly begin to sweep them back and forth at arm's length, keeping the spray of bullets at head-height for efficiency's sake. The recoil is minimal and the opponents fall in bloodless waves, as in an old computer game. You recognise about half of the assailants. They're John, that guy you used to sit next to at work. Even as more appear and fall to our relentlessly unassailable firepower we wonder, disappointed, if this will happen whenever, wherever we travel using the White Room.
How appropriate that this dream should end on a note of inconclusive disappointment. A promising start and premise with such potential have, with jarring inexplicability, given way to a shootout that transcends its potentially intriguing elements to remain unredeemed by originality, excitement, or even good old-fashioned splatterpunk catharsis.
It feels as if the budget ran out just when the story was gathering pace and it had to be finished using pre-production CGI from a completely different dream. The bitter let-down of the unfulfilling ending retrospectively taints the early sensation of tantalising intrigue, leaving a production that feels like an ill-considered attempt to marry the quirky whimsy of Being John Malcovich with the stylised ultraviolence of the Matrix trilogy.
If the use of elements from the past is intended to be symbolic the meaning is completely obscure, and one fears that all that John represents is, appropriately enough, someone whose defining characteristic was computer games involving mindless, endless gun-battles. Honest, perhaps, but hardly revelatory. In the end, this was than the sum of its parts, leading us on with limitless possibilities only to plump for such a disappointing one.
*. One star.