There’s a sub-genre of thrillers consisting of little more than placing small groups of people in confined locations, trapping them there, and just seeing how things play out. As cinematic premises go, it’s a reasonably low-key one, often consisting of only three or four actors, one set, and a limited need for big-budget action. And yet, the claustrophobic nature of these set-ups mean that tension is easy to mine; a few good characters bouncing off one another is all you really need. So how does Ben Parker’s debut The Chamber stack up against the likes of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Panic Room, and Reservoir Dogs…
The story is set in the Yellow Sea around North Korea, and sees Mats (Johannes Kuhnke), a humble submarine pilot, having his day ruined when he’s ordered to take three mysterious Special Ops agents down on a mission to locate something on the seabed. Mild-mannered Mats clashes with the gung-ho trio, who won’t even tell him what they’re looking for, and tensions in the archaic old research sub are starting to fray when events conspire to strand their craft at the bottom of the ocean. With the water slowly rising, the four must find a way to work together to figure a way out of the titular chamber before it becomes their tomb.
It’s worth noting early doors that—while it doesn’t necessarily look it—The Chamber is a pretty low-budget affair. If the lack of big-name actors doesn’t clue you in, the fact there are no underwater shots of the submarine’s exterior will. Despite the limitations of the production, Parker does a reasonable job conveying exactly what’s going on outside the thin metal shell. With such a sparse premise, a lot relies on the strength of the script to keep what’s going on in the sub’s interior interesting to watch.
Unfortunately, it’s the script that ends up being the film’s main issue, as a lack of nuance and an over-reliance on yelling becomes very tiring. Placing disparate characters in a confined location should naturally lead to fascinating exchanges, heated debates, and amusingly fraught banter, but in The Chamber the cast just continually shout at each other. At one point Mats and the movie’s antagonist actually find themselves on the same side of an argument, and yet somehow they still conspire to continue yelling at one another. It’s wearying, to say the very least, and might have been more forgivable if the characters themselves were more consistent or interesting… but, for the most part, they just aren’t.
The four main characters are largely archetypes: the ‘reluctant hero’ (Kuhnke); the ‘nice guy’ (Elliot Levey, probably faring the best of anyone); the ‘angry one’ (James McArdle, guilty of most of the yelling); and Charlotte Salt’s team leader, who can hold her own against the boys, but whose personality inconsistencies make her difficult to invest in.
In fact, it’s not until the final 20-minutes or so that burgeoning moments of character work creep into proceedings. After all the screaming matches and unnecessary punch-ups, two of our heroes stop to have an actual conversation with each other. And all of a sudden, you care a little bit more about their survival. It makes a world of difference for the movie’s climax, but it needed to happen significantly sooner to get us involved in the story.
Despite the exhausting nature of the script, though, first-timer Parker shows promise as a director. He shoots the narrow confines of the submarine in a variety of ways, finding new angles and utilising plenty of close-ups to help raise the tension. Given the low budget, scenes within the sub are quite polished, and Mats’ various attempts to ‘MacGyver’ his way out of their predicament are fun, while all the submarine jargon feels authentic and the setting is believable.
Strangely, though, The Chamber just doesn’t feel particularly claustrophobic, which is a bit of a shame for a movie set inside an underwater submersible. The weight of our heroes’ predicament is nicely sold (particularly given the fact that, even should they escape, they have no way of knowing whether their ship is still waiting for them above), but it won’t have you gripping your seat in discomfort like, say, Buried.
With that in mind—and while it’s far from terrible, given the delicious premise—it’s difficult not to find The Chamber a little disappointing. The climax is strong, and events don’t necessarily play out the way you think they will (there’s at least one good surprise), which make it such a shame Parker’s own script didn’t go through a few more drafts before he started shooting. Still, there’s enough here to suggest that Parker might be one whose future projects are worth keeping an eye on.
Cast & Crew
writer & director: Ben Parker.
starring: James Artaius, Christian Hillborg, Johannes Kuhnke, Elliot Levey, James McArdle & Charlotte Salt.