The Chamber Review
A claustrophobic debut from British director Ben Parker.
When a Special-Ops team seize a small submersible and its pilot for a secret mission, no-one aboard would be prepared for the events that would unfold in The Chamber.At one with the ocean and more than at home on the open sea, the Swedish Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) is by all accounts extremely content. But when a Special-Ops team board his beloved ship, research vessel Yongang, Mat’s spidey sense starts tingling. Forced to hand over the ship’s submarine, the Aurora, Mats finds his hands tied and has no choice but to pilot the AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) on behalf of the new American passengers. What the three Americans don’t know is that Mats has a soft spot for the Aurora, who has seen better days, and doesn’t take kindly to these strangers using her for their own benefit. Whilst underwater Mats eventually learns that the Americans he is chauffeuring are on some covert and top secret mission.The small team that have commandeered the Aurora each fit neatly within a typical stereotype; Red (Charlotte Salt) is in command and she has no qualms in pulling rank and barking orders at her subordinates; Parks (James McArdle) is the machismo type who understands his place but you get the sense he’s not entirely happy being told what to do by a woman; and then you have Denholm (Elliot Levey) the token tech guy. He's not in the all-black of his fellow team members but he is equipped with knowledge and plenty of know-how. Cramped together in this tiny vessel with no explanation Mats tries to find out what it is they are looking for, and as you can imagine, finds every attempt at getting a straight answer met with the usual ‘need to know’ retort.
With tensions running high between Mats and the Americans the clashes of personality are inevitable and ensue fairly early on. Adding to this are the outside elements which make the importance of this mission all the more severe. Backed into a corner Red is forced to make a tough choice - one that will not only impact the mission but one that could affect each one of them.
The Chamber is the first feature length film both written and directed by Ben Parker. Filmed predominantly in the close quarters of the tiny submarine the feeling of claustrophobia is inherent from the outset and only exacerbated by each of the characters. Mats’s sense of being in the dark and taking his recently acquired crew into the depts of the sea is delivered through frequent close ups giving the film a sense of paranoia and urgency. Set fathoms below the Yellow Sea the increasing need for survival becomes apparent the longer the crew are down there and it’s this that creates the intensity and suspense. The actual reason behind the mysterious deep sea exploration almost pales in comparison to the conflict that arrises between Mats, Red and her men.
Manic Street Preachers frontman, James Dean Bradfield, created the original score for the film along with Dave Eringa and Loz Williams and was inspired by the likes of Mica Levi and Penderecki. The soundtrack echoes the ghostly depths that the Aurora ventures into and with its subtle shifts in mood and tone works to enhance the atmosphere created on screen. The Chamber opens up with transmission voice overs and video footage suggesting that North Korea has become the greatest threat to the West which immediately sets the film up but doesn’t really follow through, becoming something of a McGuffin. Likewise and similarly fruitless is the films ending - having steadily built up a decent amount of thrilling suspense it quickly dissipates leaving the film feeling unfinished, which for me was rather disappointing.
The Chamber steadily builds momentum from the outset - it’s just shame the ending lets it down
Johannes Kuhnke plays the dedicated and sea loving Mats, trying to do the right thing and fall into line so that he can return to his day-to-day life as quickly as possible. Kuhnke who delivered a great performance in Force Majeure is here given the opportunity to show a different side of his acting abilities, one with a bit more depth and strength. With good performances from the supporting cast The Chamber is able to remain engaging despite there only being four main characters and shot in one, small location.
The Chamber packs in tension and suspense that is built from the start and works to create an excellent study of paranoia through the claustrophobic close-up shooting within the location. If it wasn’t for the ending and a slightly ridiculous and somewhat laughable scene towards the end of the film I would have scored it higher.
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