The Chamber, 2016.
Directed by Ben Parker.
Starring Johannes Kuhnke, Charlotte Salt, James McArdle, and Elliot Levey.
A three-man Special Ops team on a secret recovery mission and a civilian pilot become trapped underwater in a small claustrophobic submersible craft off the coast of North Korea.
Given my immense phobia of drowning and distaste for tight spaces, Ben Parker’s The Chamber should have scared me ghost-pale. All that’s missing is one circling shark – with or without a frikin’ laser beam attached to its head – to recreate many a childhood nightmare. This should have been a film that suffocated, crippled and unsettled me with deep resentment, yet cinematic anxiety never wrapped its constricting tentacles. You’ll feel trapped alright, but just by a tedious single-setting thriller and frontrunner for *the* worst movie ending I’ll see all 2018.
“S.O.S?” More like “W.T.F.”
*looks around for high fives, everyone glances away*
Johannes Kuhnke stars as Mats, a submersible operator for a researcher vessel patrolling the Yellow Sea (off the coast of Seoul). Before long he’s introduced to three black-wearin’ agents who require an escort for their secret mission, aka Mats. The gang begins their descent but something smells immediately fishy. Edwards (Charlotte Salt) – or “Red” as they call her – refuses to divulge detailed orders, while Parks (James McArdle) grows aggressively tired of Mats’ inquisition. There’s some bickering, Mats is stripped of his duties, Denholm (Elliot Levey) takes the wheel – and before long, the brash Americans end up stranding Mats’ mini-submarine on North Korea’s seabed. Trapped underwater, upside down so the only pressurized hatch can’t open.
Parker’s script is a mess of cliches and sunken foreshadowing, from Mats’ vessel being referred to as a “patched-up tin can” to Parks’ constant exclamations of “OUTSTANDING” and “THAT’S JUST GREAT.” Red’s dedication to mission completion hits on scoffable notes of martyrdom, everything that can go wrong does go wrong (especially after specialists TELL US they’ll go wrong), love is found in a claustrophobic space (SIGH) – tension somehow dissipates as water levels bubble higher. Character arcs torn from nautical stereotypes about pressure sickness and “The Bends,” only more infuriating as psyches predictably crumble.
Scenic views are of a 1970s Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV) that was decommissioned, privately purchased, refurbished and activated for oil scoping purposes. A rich history that translates into cold steel interiors, pipes set to burst and a few narrow-sighted cameras providing outside visibility (for a short time). Colorless, with enough space for Parks and Mats to wrestle around as “action” inserts – but somehow unable to translated knee-cramped horrors into leagues-deep terror.
Maybe my screams of frustrations weren’t spurred by Parker’s previously mentioned ending, but the film’s non-existent character building instead. Most notably, we’re supposed to care about Red’s redemption even though her foolhardy patriotism seals more than one fate. Spoiler alert – her mission is to retrieve recon data from a sunken UAV craft *at any costs.* So, she does. At any cost. Despite Park’s constant and warranted protest, despite Mats’ persistent assurance that all will perish, despite Denholm’s inability to initiate “detonation” protocol. She’s a cold-hearted soldier who knows what she signed up for – undeserving of redemption within the story’s context.
You’ll so desperately want to root for Mats, but his pensiveness and survival realism is thrown away when he essentially falls in love with Red (or does something nice, describe it how you will). Gone is the anger, as Mats tries to “distract” Red by kissing her at one point – straight up romantic dramedy bullshit while the corpse of Parks/Denholm floats by. NOW DOUBLY DEAD AFTER BEING FIRST DROWNED BY RED THEN STABBED BY MATS AFTER COMING TO LIKE A ZOMBIE AFTER PRESUMABLY DYING. Parks’ family man act is a cheap decoy shaky psychosis outbursts, Denholm’s tumble-dry death unaffecting and Mats’ arc so unceremoniously inept. Red is never a leader to follow, yet she’s all we’re given.
One-location films like The Chamber are faithfully reliant on character structures and evolutions, which is where Ben Parker’s execution falters most. Actors board a sinking ship from the get-go that only plummets faster with each scene, forced into precarious scenarios for the sake of shallow dramatic developments. Awful character mapping, industrial blandness, inarguably vapid storytelling that’s as unnatural as it is tedious – even with a dedication to seafaring practices, audiences are left treading water with no life vest. Waiting for help in the form of entertainment, only for it to never surface.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★