I have a fondness for underwater horror movies. (And games – that reminds me that I need to get to SOMA sometime soon.) Films like Deepstar Six, Leviathan, The Rift… well, okay, not The Rift so much. Anyway, the point is that if there’s a submarine and a mysterious undersea object mentioned in a film’s description then I’m already predisposed to see it. Sometimes that inclination has served me well – I love Below, for instance – and sometimes it hasn’t.
Which brings me to last night’s film.
Unfortunately, Welsh production The Chamber, is not really a horror movie, but I was most of the way through it before that became clear. No, it’s more of a survival/thriller. It’s on Shudder, so I hope I can be forgiven for the horror movie assumption.
I ran out of time to choose something else and there ARE a few moments of horror in the film, so I’m going with it. I’ll be more careful with my underwater movie choices in the future. (Ooh, what’s this Phantom (2013) movie about?)
Streaming on Shudder
The Chamber gets things started pretty quickly. Three members of a US Special Ops team arrive on a research vessel off the coast of South Korea. They need the expertise of Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) the expedition’s sole submersible pilot, to find… something, lost on the ocean floor.
There’s a bunch of vague political and intrigue stuff – the thingamajiggy is actually somewhere in North Korean waters, it’s a top-secret thingamajiggy and time is of the essence – which is why they’re using a Cold War era submersible piloted by a civilian.
What could go wrong?
Well, everything, of course – that’s the point of these sorts of movies. You stick a bunch of people in a cramped space, ratchet up the tension and then introduce a problem that quickly compounds. The sub/ship/spacecraft and the characters begin to fall apart, reflections of each other. If you’ve got an interesting space and interesting characters you can usually wring some decent tension out of the setup.
Unfortunately, while the ‘chamber’ of the mini sub is interesting enough, the characters are not much more than paper cutouts. The actors are trying, but there’s little in the script for them to work with. This is the sort of broad characterization that boils down to “the hothead who’s a danger to himself and others,” “the leader who has to be twice as tough because she’s a woman,” and “average Joe who’s the only reasonable person in the room.” Oh, and “the tech guy who’s almost got a real personality.”
I’m being harsh on The Chamber and, to be fair, it kinda deserves it. It’s really a paint-by-numbers approach to a survival/disaster film. That being said, there ARE some decent moments – explosions and injuries and jury-rigged escape plans that inevitably go awry. The political elements are just as thin as every other aspect, but they do provide some tension when the surface ship is boarded and our crew loses contact with the surface.
Kuhnke has a great face, but he always looks either scared or pissed off and I think it would have been better if he’d switched roles with James McArdle, who would do ‘everyman’ a bit better. Charlotte Salt as Red switches from super-intense to oh-so-reasonable at inappropriate times. Elliot Levy as the tech guy, Denholm, is the best actor of the bunch and does a good job with the little he’s given – which makes it sting when he’s the first to go.
There are power struggles, explosions and some decently staged fights in an enclosed space. There are head wounds and personal stories told in hushed tones as water gets uncomfortably high. There are also improbably resurrections, complete ‘top secret’ letdowns and a rushed and lackluster ending.
The Bottom Line
The Chamber is made with some competence in the staging and lighting, but the film is let down by a thin plot and thinner characters.