06th Jun2017

‘The Chamber’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Johannes Kuhnke, Charlotte Salt, James McArdle, Elliott Levey | Written and Directed by Ben Parker


When submarine pilot Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) is approached by a low-rent Donald Pleasence to take a three-man Special Ops team deep into contested waters near the 38th Parallel, he’s understandably sceptical. Leading the mysterious trio is “Red” Edwards (Charlotte Salt), who’s joined by the belligerent Parks (James McArdle) and the gentle Denholm (Elliott Levey).

While submerged, the top ship is boarded, and suddenly the four explorers are trapped together in the underwater chamber. To add vinegar to the wound, catastrophe strikes and they start taking on water. Tensions fray. Clichéd dialogue is exchanged. Who, if anyone, will emerge alive?

The Chamber is the feature debut for writer-director Ben Parker, and it’s a pretty standard micro-budget setup: a high-concept thriller almost entirely confined to a single set. Sadly, it’s a bit of stinker: uninspiring in terms of script and direction, and lacking interesting characters or surprising incident.

The basics just aren’t there. Without the budget – or even some atmospheric library footage of the endless deep sea gloom – there’s no palpable sense of isolation or confinement. Certainly never the feeling of being trapped in the bathysphere from hell. Perhaps it’s the stark TV lighting, or the ineffective sound design, but we’re never anywhere except a studio set.

Nor did I believe in the characters. From the start, the tension is risibly contrived. After Alien Covenant, I thought I was done with Prometheus problems, but once again, in lieu of believable human conflict the team simply behaves in an unprofessional way. When Mats is running through a very reasonable safety briefing, Red is aggressively impatient and Parks is laughably dismissive. Later, when things get a bit leaky, their first instinct is to start yelling at each other and pulling knives. If this is how the military deal with high pressure situations… well, let’s just hope that diplomacy with North Korea is maintained.

What should have been a clutter-free setup is needlessly complicated, and often illogical. Why couldn’t this elite squad have found themselves a pilot of their own – one who could be fully briefed? Or even do it themselves? After all, they keep pointing out that controlling the craft is child’s play. The eyebrow-curling answer is that Mats is “cover” for the real nature of their mission. Follow-up questions keep coming, but it’s not worth the brain-drain.

The Chamber sinks quickly as a result of tiresome overplotting. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a narrative built on problem-solving (and all of the exposition that brings), but for the minutiae of such discussions to be dramatically arresting, we must at least understand what’s at stake. Alas, like Mats, we’re kept in the dark for the first half of the film, left to watch whispering kidnappers solve problems we don’t understand and therefore don’t care about.

Notably, things pick up slightly once the accident occurs and it’s simply four guys in an upside-down tin can. However, by this point you will have forecast all the character arcs. Predictable doesn’t begin to describe it. At the hour mark I could picture the final shot in my head – and lo, it came to pass.

The actors, struggling with a charmless screenplay, are really up against it. Kuhnke resembles a Scandinavian Mark Wahlberg, except he’s even flatter in his delivery. Salt does her best in the role of the world’s least convincing military leader since Paul Giamatti knocked a wall over with his bum in Saving Private Ryan. McArdle, ostensibly the Michael Biehn in this Abyss, comes across less as a hardened military man and more like a raging ASBO kid on community service. And no one can think of anything to do with Levey at all, bless him.

Don’t come expecting Hitchcock’s Lifeboat and you may get some value from The Chamber. Any more than this – to be engaged with the characters’ crumbling psyches, say, or to be chilled by the buried-alive horror of it all – would be asking too much. Workmanlike at best, and with nothing new to offer, it’s a movie that lingers only as long as the echoes inside its tiny shell.

The Chamber is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.


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