1957. The movie opens inside a Russian cargo plane flying over freezing airspace. Two Russian pilots are in the cockpit talking about the cargo they are carrying. The co-pilot comments that he will go to the cargo hold and take care of things. The co-pilot enters the cargo hold where three other Russians are enjoying vodka and looking at American nudie magazines while playing games to pass the time. The co-pilot jokes with one of the Russians. The camera lingers on a padlocked box in the cargo hold. While retrieving another bottle of vodka, the co-pilot drops and quickly pulls a guy, shooting one of the cargo Russians. A firefight ensues between the co-pilot and two cargo hold Russians. In the middle of the firefight, the pilot is shot and the plane begins to plummet. Eventually, everyone is dead as the plan crashes into the ice of Antarctica.
Present Day. We see establishing shots of the frozen desert of Antarctica. We follow a warmly clad figure through a heavily populated international research center. The figure walks past various scientists outside including a group of streakers. The figure enters the building and the several scientists are clad in Hawaiian luau apparel, getting ready for the end of the season party. Everyone is packing up to leave the center before the six months of winter sets in. We see more shots of the center as the figure walks through to a bedroom.
In the bedroom, the figure begins to take of layers of protective clothing and we see that it is Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale). Carrie undresses, hangs her US Marshall badge near her bed and climbs into a warm shower. While showering, Carrie's name is called. She leaves her shower, walks into her room, and is greeted by Doc (Tom Skerritt). They talk about the fact that everyone is leaving and that Carrie is giving up her post instead of wintering through again with the Doc. It's at this point that a discussion of a whiteout is first had and that in a whiteout you can't see more than six inches in front of your face and can freeze to death in seconds.
More random events follow as well as the revelation that a hurricane-style storm is rolling in and that the entire research facility will have to be evacuated. Carrie bumps into a towel-clad, just showered Russell Haden (Alex O'Loughlin) in the hall and Russell solicits a body search from Carrie. She comments that he was one of the streakers and based on what she saw, she's not interested. Carrie is informed by Shaun Doyle (Sam Murphy) that a body may have been discovered in a remote area. Carrie says she'll check it out.
Carrie and Doc hop on a plane flown by Delfy (Columbus Short) and fly to the location. Delfy is former military and has only been flying in Antarctica for a year. They hand the plan and Carrie and Doc find a frozen body that looks like he fell from a cliff while climbing. They turn the body over and find a security badge identifying the body as McGuire, another scientist. They see decide that he fell while climbing but can't figure out why he was out in such a remote area. They take the body back to the lab.
Carrie and Doc wheel the frozen body through the middle of the luau, grossing everyone out. They go into the medical facility and perform an assessment. They notice that McGuire has a badly stitched wound on his leg with a distinctive loop at the top of the thread. They also can see that he has been stabbed in the chest by an ice ax, which leads Carrie to believe that there is murderer on the loose. She says she will have to investigate.
Carrie reviews logs of science groups and determines that McGuire belonged to a group of three scientists including Mooney (Steve Lucescu) and Rubin (Jesse Todd). The three of them were looking for meteorites. Carries attempts to contact the remaining scientists and manages to reach Mooney who asks that she come to Vostock, an old Russian station. Carrie says she will.
Carrie and Delfy fly to Vostock. The search the Cold War era facility and find no one. Carrie says that she will need to check one last building and dresses in her extreme weather clothes. As she opens the door to go outside, her coffee falls and immediately freezes. Carries clips herself into a safety rope system and heads to the out building. She enters the building and takes off her gloves. She walks into a room and sees Mooney lying on a couch. She walks up to the couch and Mooney is gushing blood from a neck wound. Suddenly, a black-clad killer appears behind Carrie. She dodges the killer's ice ax and runs out of the building and back outside. She clips herself into the safety line, but the killer follows, also clipping himself in. He continues to swing his ax at Carrie, but Carrie manages to evade him. When Carrie gets to the door, she turns the metal handle without her gloves and her fingers stick to the handle, pulling off her skin. She makes it inside and manages to keep the killer out and then passes out.
We are treated to Carrie's fever dream of her time as an agent in Miami where she had brought in a suspect. Her partner was a dirty cop and let the suspect loose to try to kill Carrie. Carrie fought off the suspect and ended up shooting her partner who falls out of a window and dies. This lead to Carrie accepting the post in Antarctica and mistrusting of others.
Carrie awakes to Delfy at her bedside. They rehash the attack and Carrie decides to go back to the outbuilding. They get there and see Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht), a UN security agent. Pryce is examining Moody's body and he and Carrie square off. Carrie doesn't trust him but they agree to take the body back to the facility together. They do. At the facility, they conclude that the third party in the research group, Rubin, is missing and must be the killer. They decided to head out to the group’s most recent research site.
Carrie, Pryce, and Delfy climb into a land vehicle and head to the science groups last know research grid. At the grid, Carrie notices that the ice has been worked and begins to walk around. She suddenly falls through the ice. She looks around and sees a trail of blood on the wall and the door to the Russian cargo plane. Delfy and Pryce climb down the shaft and they enter the plane. They begin to look around and Carrie figures out the firefight that had taken place. They notice the locked box has been opened and six cylinders removed. Carrie figures out that the plane was the real reason Pryce was sent to Antarctica. Suddenly, the tunnel collapses, snow rushing into the plane, trapping the group. When all seems doomed, Pryce remembers that Russian plans from the 1950's had exploding roof hatches and is able to explode the hatch with the battery from Carrie's sat phone. The three climb out and share a drink in the land vehicle as they plan their next move.
The group returns to the facility where Carrie informs Sam that a serial killer is on the loose. Carrie then goes to see Doc about her fingers. Doc examines Carrie's fingers, which are black with frostbite. Carrie has no feeling in her fingers and Doc tells her that they will have to be amputated. We are treated to the amputation scene. Doc and Carrie talk about happier times while Doc preps Carrie for the amputation. We hear the clip as Carrie's pinky is amputated off screen.
Carrie returns to her office to retrieve her gun and Rubin is waiting behind the door. Rubin explains that they had found the plane on the meteorite search and that had taken the canisters. Rubin explains that someone is trying to kill them. Carrie says she will escort Rubin to the plane that is leaving and will ensure that the killer is caught. As Carrie gets Rubin ready to leave, an outside door opens and the killer appears. The killer cashes Rubin onto the ice, swinging his ax. The killer catches up to Rubin and snaps his neck. Carrie appears and knocks the killer out with a shovel.
Carrie and Pryce begin to question Russell, who is revealed as the killer. Russell explains that he has the Russian canisters with him. All of the other scientists are boarding the plane as there is only a few minutes until the huge winter storm hits. Carrie and Pryce lock Russell in the brig and discuss the need to find the canisters.
In the confusion of the evacuation, Carrie and Pryce cannot find the canisters. Carrie then discovers that Delfy has been stabbed and Doc attends to him. Carrie and Pryce find out that Russell has escaped and see him trying to get to his plane on the ice. As the larger plane leaves, Carrie and Pryce chase Russell across the ice. The chase continues and then the white out hits. For several minutes the three chase each other on the ice, using the system of security ropes. Just as it looks as if Russell, is about to kill Carrie, Pryce appears and cuts Russell's rope, sending him flying into the cold, killing him. Carrie and Russell return to the base, open Russell's bag and find the missing canisters. When they open the canisters, the find only jelly beans.
Carrie decides that the original contents of the canisters were hidden in the cargo on the plane. Carrie contacts Sam who is searching the plane for any missing cargo. He says he will send Carrie a manifest. Carrie retrieves the cargo manifest from the fax machine and notices that three packages from the science center were not loaded on the plane. Carrie goes to the science center and determines that the missing packages are the bodies of Rubin, Mooney, and McGuire. She opens each body bag, but finds nothing. While searching through McGuire's body bag, she notices the distinctive stitch on his leg wound matches the ones on her amputated fingers. She opens McGuire's chest wound, reaches inside and retrieves several bags of large diamonds. As she turns to leave, she sees Doc in the doorway.
Doc admits his role in the diamond smuggling and says that Russell got greedy, leading him to murder the others. He says that he has nothing to go home for and the diamonds would give him a new life. Carrie says she feels betrayed by her friend. Doc asks to see the winter lights one last time and Carrie lets him walk outside to his death.
Six months later. Carrie, Pryce, and recovered Delfy have wintered through at the facility. Pryce and Delfy are bowling in the hall with the canisters and a huge rubber band ball. Carrie chats with them and goes to her office where we see her transmit an email to her director for a new post.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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The three geologists who found the downed Russian cargo plane discovered not nuclear material but diamonds. When they had to call for help, Russell Haden (Alex O'Loughlin) and Dr. John Fury (Tom Skerritt) responded. In return, they agreed to split the diamonds five ways. However, Haden got greedy and killed the three geologists and attempts to leave Antartica with the diamonds.
U.S. Marshall Carrie Steko (Kate Beckinsale) and U.N. agent Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht) stop Haden from escaping by cutting his support line during a whiteout storm. Haden gets knocked out and carried away by the storm to freeze to death. Later, Steko realizes that John was the second accomplice by the stitch work on one of dead geologists. John admits his role, though noting no one was supposed to get hurt. Not wanting to go to prison for the rest of his life yet feeling remorseful for what happened (especially that Carrie lost two fingers to frostbite due to an encounter with Haden), John commits suicide by going out in the middle of the storm without proper gear to freeze.
The film ends six months later with Carrie, Robert and surviving pilot Delfy (Columbus Short) counting the days until they can leave the base. Carrie has tendered her resignation from the U.S. Marshals.
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