VOD film review: The Chamber
Ivan Radford | On 24, Mar 2017
Director: Ben Parker
Casts: Johannes Kuhnke, Charlotte Salt, James McArdle
Watch The Chamber online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
A mission on the border of North Korean goes wrong. A scientist is trapped in a sub underwater. A group of strangers fight for survival. All of these gripping scenarios collide in The Chamber, but the thriller never quite works out which one of them to follow.
The submersible in question belongs to a scientific company exploring the sea bed, but Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) finds his diving bell commandeered by a bunch of US soldiers, who want to use the vessel to find an unknown secret in the dark depths in North Korean territory. They’re led by Red (Charlotte Salt), who refuses to take any subordination from Mats, let alone her colleagues, Denholm (Elliot Levey) and Andy (Christian Hillborg). When things go awry up top, though, tensions rise below the surface, leaving Mats and his unwanted guests at odds with each other – and their odds of getting back above water alive rapidly diminishing.
It’s a neat set-up, and writer-director Ben Parker (making his feature debut) establishies things nicely, with a nifty opening credits sequence and no time wasted on unnecessary exposition – we’re plunged into the thick of it with confidence and concise dialogue. But as the film’s oxygen timer ticks down to an inevitably brutal finale, the tension slowly hisses out of the hull.
The cast are all on fine form, with Johannes Kuhnke particularly effective as the everyday worker frustrated at being kept out of the loop and desperate to secure the safety of his fragile, beaten-up hunk of metal. Salt is commanding and authoritative, with a more human side than the threatening Hillborg and a more pragmatic ruthlessness than nice guy Levey. Their chemistry is essential for the shifting balance of power, loyalty, betrayal and self-preservation to be believable, but while their interactions are convincing, the dialogue they’re given doesn’t quite work.
The stripped-down approach to the low-budget thriller is used well by Parker, who spends more time looking at our characters’ faces than bothering with visual trickery – just as you would in that situation, he keeps his focus firmly on the people we’re sharing the sub with. But by refusing to venture outside, in terms of themes and subject, as well as narrative, the screenplay’s conversations become disappointingly repetitive, with the dynamics never quite changing dramatically enough to convince. When the tone does switch come the final act, meanwhile, the jolt towards friendship feels too sudden, leaving the rushed resolution feeling anti-climactic. In the background, James Dean Bradfield’s pumping score brings some suspense, while the political context teases intriguing repercussions for events, but The Chamber never fully resonates, instead echoing with unfulfilled potential.