Ben Parker’s taut, tense feature film debut showcases the writer-director’s skill with the camera and ability to gradually raise the stakes in a predominantly single location set-up. Female lead Charlotte Salt excels.
After impressing audiences with his tense short film Shifter, writer-director Ben Parker marks his feature film debut with a similarly suspenseful thriller set beneath the Yellow Sea. The Chamber, boasting a particularly claustrophobic single-location set-up, sees a small submersible descend to the ocean’s depths, its skipper largely clueless to the motivations of his “guests”, an American special ops team who commandeer his underwater craft in order to find a mysterious object on the sea bed.
The impressive Johannes Kuhnke as Mats is the unwitting pawn within the cat and mouse thrills, tasked with captaining the submersible on its journey into the unknown. Parker’s initial dramatic staging captivates through ambiguity before he increases the tension through the push-pull dynamics of four lost souls realising they may never see the surface again.
Charlotte Salt holds things brilliantly together as the special ops team’s commander, a powerhouse performance that heats up the freezing waters enveloping the stricken group, adding a hearty dose of feminine grit to counter the panicked machismo. Sans the science-fiction, the film recalls elements of James Cameron’s Aliens in many ways, not least the idea of a military operation gone wrong with a civilian stuck in the middle (and a few borrowed lines of dialogue). Salt’s unfazed determination with an underlying humanity that permeates a steely stare offers us a character Sigourney Weaver would be proud of.
Much of that macho posturing she’s up against comes from one of the film’s missteps. James McArdle, in an underwritten role as Parks, can’t match the convincing performances of his three co-stars and struggles most with Parker’s decision to cast British actors in the roles of the American special ops team. The transatlantic accents on show here don’t always convince, and McArdle is the biggest culprit, a questionable military grunt who’s more a plot convenience than an organic part of the ensuing drama.
Parker’s real skill, and the highlight of The Chamber, is the camera. Certainly, part of his talent extends to making a low budget film appear far more expensive, the gravitas of the Yellow Sea weighing down on this tiny submersible craft almost entirely hinted at rather than explicitly shown. That focuses attention on events inside this stricken tin can hundreds of metres below the water’s surface as Parker ensures we’re as stuck on the sea bed as Mats and co. It’s an ideal stage from which to immerse us in a situation where the stakes get higher in line with anxiety levels.
Reminding of another James Cameron film – The Abyss – Parker takes his cues from The Terminator writer-director’s scene in which Mary Mastrantonio and Ed Harris find themselves stuck in a small submersible that is taking on water and have to devise a method of escape. Parker allows the water to lap against the camera’s lens as we witness it slowly extinguish the air that’s keeping these people alive. The instability of the camera is also indicative of the ocean’s perpetual motion, making us continually aware of the natural monster imprisoning our protagonists.
A true technical accomplishment, The Chamber gives the writer-director’s strengths the opportunity to shine. Taut, beautifully paced and unsettling, what the film loses in originality and elements of characterisation and dialogue it makes up for in visceral thrills.
Written by Dan Stephens
Top 10 Films reviewed The Chamber on DVD. The film is released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download March 20, 2017.