Film Review: The Chamber

Despite the aquatic setting, 'The Chamber' is about as arid as a horror movie can get.
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A “chamber drama” titled The Chamber might seem a witty conceit, but there is virtually no humor in this ultra-serious movie about in-fighting among submarine crew members on a mission gone wrong. Writer-director Ben Parker’s debut feature is competently made but lacking the tension and atmospherics one expects from this sort of genre picture.

Most of Parker’s story takes place in one small space—literally a submersible chamber—in which four characters tackle a doomed special-ops assignment, a subcontracted deal with the South Korean government: locating an unidentifiable object at the bottom of the Yellow Sea, off the coast of a nervously nuclear North Korea, as seen in opening “newsreel” footage.

The leader of the ragtag squad is Edwards (Charlotte Salt), a no-nonsense commander. Her decision to proceed with the quest—following warning signs to abort—provides the pivotal moment when her already seething all-male team turns violent and chaotic. Mats (Johannes Kuhnke), the sub pilot, reluctantly proceeds with the operation, but Parks (James McArdle), the “tactical force” guy, goes ballistic (literally!), and Denholm (Elliot Levey), the tech guy, is too weak from injury to protest much. Ultimately, the new goal of the crew becomes one of survival—the last man or woman standing (or swimming).

It is not a good sign for a film about people fighting for their lives when the viewer doesn’t care whether any of them “make it,” so to speak. Despite containing an abundance of dialogue, The Chamber hardly compels great concern for its characters. Most of the exchanges are B-movie-style arguments about the importance of the mission or recriminations regarding the poor decision-making (mostly leveled at Salt’s hard-as-nails superior). There are echoes of every creaky, claustrophobic vessel movie, from classics like The Ghost Ship (1943) to the recent Black Sea (2015)—and the film’s ad campaign evokes Open Water (2003)—but the real inspiration seems to be the dry-land Blair Witch Project (1999), where a woman in charge of a male crew makes a crucial mistake and pays dearly for it.

This modern-day mix of pseudo-feminism and insidious sexism won’t win over any new fans, but the talky inaction of the first half of the movie becomes even more ruinous for those seeking a revision of genre conventions. Parker channels William Saroyan rather than Wes Craven, yet somehow renders existential ruminations dull and affected. Alfred Hitchcock and John Steinbeck had a similar amount of tight space within to work in Lifeboat (1944), but that film was filled with interesting characters and plot developments. In The Chamber, we are not even sure what the mission is, how it becomes such a disaster, or why it all matters. Perhaps that’s on purpose: Parker has created his own Wading for Godot.

Though the ingredients are present for a suspenseful little sleeper, The Chamber will simply put you to sleep.

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