Netflix's Chambers Season 1 Review
Ever heard of a film called Body Parts? Or The Eye?
Drawing Uma Thurman into the fold, Netflix's latest TV series is a 10-episode supernatural horror that slow-burns an intriguing premise.Whilst Chambers initially feels like it boasts quite an original premise, the whole 'possessed body part' notion has been kicking around for decades, not least in the 80s film Body Parts, and also the Chinese horror The Eye, which also underwent the Hollywood remake treatment a decade back. This notwithstanding, Chambers does manage to somehow just about stand apart, taking a good long while to really get going, but undeniably building characters and atmosphere in the meantime.
The story follows Sasha, a teenager who has a freak heart attack and receives an emergency transplant. Slowly she begins to feel that there's something wrong, getting closer to the donor's mysterious but rich parents so that she can learn more about the strange circumstances under which she died.
It requires patience to get through to the real darkness at the heart of this mystery, with not a lot to reward you through the first half of the season
In the modern age of streaming saturation, where there is another potentially good new TV show every week, it is hard to have the same patience as back in the days of, say, Buffy, where audiences would tolerate an abysmal first season and stick around to find that the show suddenly just turned into a whole different beast and became some of the best TV of its day. Now viewers will give some shows an episode or two at best before moving on, leaving new series to find increasingly desperate ways to grab you from the get-go. The recent Netflix sci-fi series Nightflyers adopted this tactic, throwing everything at you over the first few episodes to try and keep your interest, but ultimately not quite coming through on its initially promising ideas.
Chambers should at least be lauded for taking the opposite approach, slow-burning its mystery across the course of the first few episodes, and taking almost half of its first season run to even start to get into the meat of its curiously compelling tale of supernatural remnants passed over through organ donation. It requires, then, a considerable amount of patience - or just a considerable amount of spare time (as a binge-watch is clearly the best way to enjoy it) - to get through to the real darkness at the heart of this mystery, with not a whole lot to reward you through that initial, painfully uneventful, first half of the season.
The presence of comparative heavyweight (at least for TV) player Uma Thurman is of some assistance, but she's not as big a player as you would perhaps like her to be - again, at least not for a few episodes - with Tony Goldwyn (who's done slimy undiscovered villain ever since the days of Patrick Swayze's Ghost) also on hand to be suspicious in the background - but, yup, you guessed it, not really doing anything either for half the season. Far more interesting is Sasha's uncle, Frank (Marcus LaVoi - Den of Thieves), who is really the heart of the show, with his desperation to help his tortured niece.
Sasha herself is played well by newcomer Sivan Alyra Rose, looking suitably freaked out throughout the series, even though it takes far too long for her to really address any of what is happening to her, making the character feel slightly thinly painted. What is perhaps more interesting - but still underdeveloped - is the Navajo background, with Sasha and her dad of Navajo descent, and their culture and spirituality coming into play along the way, even if it's nowhere near as satisfyingly involved as it should be.
Chambers is an equal parts strangely compelling and slightly frustrating watch
Chambers is an equal parts strangely compelling and slightly frustrating watch, but it does get better as it goes along, building slowly but surely in intensity as the mystery - and conspiracy - gets more painfully complicated and desperately dark. The grim shadow that is cast over the entire series gives it some veritable atmosphere, and without perpetual tension (it's too slow a show for that), viewers can at least settle for undeniable foreboding as a second best. And not that it should impact the quality of a show, but the Dolby Vision / Atmos enhancements are of real benefit here, with Vision, for one of those relatively rare times at least when it comes to Netflix productions, being used exceptionally well to bring the darkness in the image to life, rather than just succumbing to it as is Netflix's normal habit with DV.
Perhaps not to be praised for rewarding only those who stick it out when really, common sense should prevail and you should follow your instincts and move onto something else, Chambers does deliver in the end (not wholly unlike the recent Amazon adaptation of Hanna) earning its points in the 11th hour. That said, as has been seen with so many other shows, the benefit of this slow-burning formula is that at least, in taking its time, by the time darkness finally suffocates these characters, you might have actually started to care about them.
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