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The Independent Critic

Jonathan C. Legat, Eric Lipe, Michelle Higgins
David B. Grelck
NR (Mature Language)
90 Mins.
 "White Out" Review 
I still look back and smile.

It's a brief period of my life that not too many of my friends even know about. I was on the air at a local college radio station, serving primarily as their news announcer with occasional feature pieces.

I'd been reprimanded more than once...justifiably so. I had a tendency to stretch the news. Okay, I had a tendency to lie.

They were little lies. Fun lies. Still, they were lies.

Among those who listened to me, I will always be known as THAT guy...the guy who went TOO far before going too far was actually the norm. I'd begun a strange little feature that I would frequently throw in anytime a really dramatic killing occurred. It was called "Lifestyles of the Sick and Perverted."

I found it hilarious. Administration disagreed.

One day, I crossed the line. A nurse had been murdered and, well, I just couldn't stop myself. I spewed forth with "Lifestyles of the Sick and Perverted- An Exclusive Tour of Richard Speck's Closet."

That was my last day on the air.

So, I must confess that I found myself watching "White Out," written and directed by David B. Grelck, with a healthy mixture of schoolboy glee and sympathetic appreciation.

Nick Watson (Jonathan Legat) is in his final night of hosting "Reality," a four-year-old show on Norwalk University's WSKO. Nick is graduating mid-semester and, in a mere 19 days, scheduled to marry his longtime girlfriend, Michelle Fullmer (Stephanie Wyatt). While his show, once a controversial and timely staple of local radio, has largely become a tired series of not so intriguing "reality" topics, it has remained one of WSKO's most popular programs. His co-host, Andy Wolcienski (Eric Lipe), has carried the show's energy for the past couple years and is soon to be rewarded with the show itself. Nick's longtime producer, Hannah (Michelle Higgins), is an obvious mixture of emotions and there exists long unsubstantiated rumors of the undeniable sexual tension between Nick and Hannah.

When Nick receives a tip from an anonymous caller that his soon-to-be-wife has been cheating on him with Norwalk's star quarterback, the combination of his pending nuptials, stress over leaving his job for an unsure future in a new city and a raging blizzard that is paralyzing the city snowballs into one unforgettable final night on the air for Nick Watson and everyone who crosses his path.

It is up to Nick to rise above his rage, but there's not much more dangerous than a betrayed and angry man with a microphone. Thus, the journey begins.

The majority of "White Out" occurs within the span of a radio show that stretches from four to twelve hours as the perfect storm brews both outside and inside the studio. A drama mixed with cathartic touches of humor, "White Out" works because it blends just enough touches of reality with a theme that is likely to resonate with anyone who has ever experienced or actually been an unfaithful partner.

Nick vacillates between righteous rage, desires for humiliation, attempts at forgiveness and utter despair throughout this stormy night and, by night's end, truths have been spilled, secrets spoken and FCC rules have been shattered into tiny pieces.

As the devastated DJ, Jonathan Legat ("Fate Twisted Simply") manages to humanize Nick by blending together nicely his humanity with his rage even as he's completely humiliating his former wife-to-be on the air. While there were moments that cried out for a touch more vulnerability than he offered, Legat's controlled performance kept Nick from ever becoming such an over-the-top caricature that his behavior became unbelievable.

As the co-host relishing the opportunity to take over the show, Eric Lipe ("Drive Radio")proves to be a solid co-hort for Nick's more manic, pointed energy with a more grounded, intellectual and thoughtful style that, at times, provided "White Out" with just the right amount of sincerity and sarcasm.

With the manic, testosterone-driven energy offered by Legat and Lipe, Michelle Higgins'("Irving Renquist, Ghost Hunter") emotionally resonant take on Hannah adds just the perfect anchor for "White Out" to unfold as a richly compelling and resonant drama.

Credit goes to Grelck for staging "White Out" almost exclusively within the confines of a radio studio and, thus, giving the relationships a strong sense of intimacy that both enhances their connection and our connection to them. By film's end, it is nearly impossible to not care about the futures unfolding for Nick, Hannah, Andy and, yes, even Michelle.

Filmed on an ultra-indie budget under $10,000, "White Out" only occasionally suffers from the obvious limits of such a low budget. Outside scenes woven into the fabric of the film are a tad distracting, both because they distract from the film's humanity and because the scenes themselves don't reflect accurately the storm as it is described throughout the night.

Kudos to Grelck for a script that takes a very relatable human drama and maintaining its sense of authenticity. While I appreciated Grelck's addressing the FCC issue through Hannah's numerous interventions, the lack of resolution at film's end had me wondering if Nick himself would ever be allowed on the radio again after enough FCC violations to bankrupt Norwalk University.

While the ending feels a tad predictable and abrupt, the journey taken during "White Out" makes it all worthwhile.

The Independent Critic has long been dedicated to promoting student and independent filmmakers. I love the opportunity to view and review films from budding filmmakers and tomorrow's cinematic voices. Sometimes, it is immensely challenging to fairly review low-budget films from beginning filmmakers. Other times, I just sit back in awe at the cinematic miracles that can unfold on budgets that wouldn't pay for the toilet paper on a Peter Jackson film.

Behind strong performances from relative newcomers Michelle Higgins, Jonathan Legat and Eric Lipe, "White Out" is an emotionally satisfying and intellectually compelling film from first-time filmmaker David B. Grelck.

Now, then, let me get back to Richard Speck's closet.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic