The Real Fear of the White Room with Producer Janice Woo

Horror/Thriller films go through cycles just like anything else in life. The slasher films of the 80’s like Friday the 13th (thirteen films in the franchise and generating a WW box office of nearly half a billion dollars) and Halloween (eleven films earning nearly a billion dollars), found footage based stories like the Blair Witch Project (earning $248 million from a budget of $60,000) and Paranormal Activity (a box office of nearly $200,000 million from a budget of $15,000) allows one to pinpoint the era in which a film was created. It also proves that this is one area of filmmaking which can produce massive dividends from a small financial investment. Filmmakers strive for new ways to elicit the cathartic experience these films offer. Recent productions of this genre are seeking a psychological and social basis, the message of which runs congruent to the fears often discussed in the headlines of news outlets. The monsters we fear these days are those which may come from the most common and accessible members of our own neighborhood.

In the same way that many of us reject the music and fashion of our parents, thriller/horror films refuse to adopt the approach and sensibility of what came before. While these films are not among the most praised by critics, they are overwhelming embraced by the (ticket purchasing) public. This environment provides fertile ground for filmmakers like producer/director Janice Woo and writer/actress Katrina Schmidt to make a film their own way. When the two found themselves working on a prior project that was admittedly a bad experience, they began discussing Schmidt’s script. After reading, the producer found herself so taken with its unique voice that she convinced Schmidt to reject the offers she had already received from a number of production companies and let Woo option it. Wis Petter also came on board as producer, enabling a quick prep time. Creating a film can be precarious for an artist when they don’t have confidence that their vision of the film will not be corrupted by the executives in charge of the purse strings. Katrina’s experience working with Janice assured her that the film would manifest as she perceived it.

White Room is currently in postproduction, meaning that no major plot points can be revealed at this time. What is open for discussion is the tone and direction of the film. In the same way that a series like Black Mirror (UK series airing on Netflix in the US) raises doubt about one’s perception and personal safety in the world, White Room offers a number of possibilities in the plot. In a very pleasing manner, the gratification of understanding exactly what is happening is kept at bay. The story is based on a handful of scenarios which are continually revisited with changes occurring during each of these. In one of the best surprise endings offered by a film in quite some time, the audience realizes that the film itself is not even as it was previously perceived. Only in the final moments of the story does one understand the overlooked hints at reality were presented a number of times with a subtle touch. This fact alone makes multiple viewings entertaining. White Room’s story is built upon the dual pillars of fear/mental illness and life support vs mercy killing. These ideas are among the most controversial and contemplated in present day society. Schmidt and Woo have presented them in a way that places ownership on the viewer. The director/producer communicates, “I don’t want the audience to just adopt my view but rather to question themselves. There wasn't much of a discussion in the movie or any lecturing about the subject; the characters just made their decisions flowing with the story. It might or might not have a different ending if they chose another option. Of course, the audience can decide for themselves if the characters made the right choice or not. I’d like the audience to place themselves in the position of the characters in this film and decide how they would act. Mercy killing is a very serious and controversial subject; instead of telling the audience what they should feel, we wanted to make them questions their opinion regardless of what they thought it was before watching our film.”

Though horror/thriller films are not typically thought of as art, White Room checks all of the boxes confirming it to be so. The creators of the film pursued a course that placed control and expression over guaranteed money, the film takes a cerebral approach that goes against the grain of visual effects, and the story itself offers more questions than answers. That being said, satisfying is the most appropriate way to describe this film. Janice Woo confirms that making this film was about expression for her but with the goal of leaving the audience with a lot to talk about after watching it.

Written by Kelly King

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