THE CHAMBER (2016)
Directed by Ben Parker
Nothing helps make a horror scary like a good no way out scenario: people trapped in with each other with and an ever-increasing threat. So how about no way out on a small sub, about the size of a camper van, upside down at the bottom of the sea. Well that’s the setup for writer/ director Ben Parker’s feature debut. Needless to say it gets intense.
It’s the Yellow Sea, just off the coast of North Korea, and a research vessel is boarded by some American special-ops. At first the crew are thrilled, especially because one of them is a lady. Though for the not-so-sure Swedish sub pilot Mats (Kuhnke), things are about to get really bad, really fast. After his skipper orders him to accompany them on a hush-hush mission to the seabed, he finds himself in the titular small, confined vessel with them. Cue the cold but committed Red (Salt), with her trusty good solider and bad soldier combo (Levey and McCardle respectively), not taking well to his insistence on being in charge. And the further down they go, towards their mystery mission, the more tense the situation gets when they start turning on each other. In the first half there’s threats, punches and then a decision to blow something up. Then, well – this being a movie it’s sort of inevitable something’s going to go wrong.
Obviously for this sort of film, it’s essential that there’s a) a sense of claustrophobia and b) a relentless pace. Regarding the former, Parker has obviously spent a lot of time getting the setting right. There’s blue hues lighting the dank room, giving the authentic under water look, whilst the sound effects and humming soundtrack are very immersive (an atmospheric piece of music being done by James Dean Bradfield). This authenticity is backed up by a good lexicon, that gives a convincing sense of real peril – something amplified by the airtight plotting. Barely a moment is wasted, as the crew go from one catastrophe to another and need to get very resourceful. Sure, after a while the escalations feel like contrivances. Yet there’s a gritty ruthlessness about the movie that means you’re kept on your toes wondering who (if anyone) is going to get out.
Unfortunately, the curiosity will likely be more intellectual than emotional. It’s not that the actors are bad – they adapt to their ever worsening circumstances realistically and handle the bulk of the drama well. Salt, in particular, is stellar. There’s just not much to their parts though. Save for McCardle, the cast don’t have especially engaging arcs. Most of the characterisation groundwork is lumped into the last 20 minutes, where two of them have something of a heart to heart, though otherwise it feels fairly damp. As such, while it’s easy to find the action exciting it’s difficult to really care about it. Similarly, though the script does a commendable job of building intrigue about the mission, the eventual reveal of what’s going on is so dull and underdone that it seems arbitrary. We know the situation matters, though for all its explored it could really be about anything.
To be fair, this doesn’t do much to cheapen the film’s impact too much, given that it’s undoubtedly still an exciting and fast thriller. But it does mean a movie set deep beneath the waves feels frustratingly shallow.