The Chamber

In Ben Parker’s The Chamber there’s a Swedish research ship with a rickety old mini-sub that’s been loaned out to some Americans dressed in tactical black (read: military) to do something (it’s a thing, it’s important, don’t worry your pretty little head about it) in the Yellow Sea right under the noses of North Korea.

This is a frustrating film because it’s almost good. It’s that close to being an awesome thriller. You pull for it to get there but it just never does. The Chamber is the third inhale of a sneeze you can’t finish, or a yawn that evaporates in the middle and leaves you feeling something more should have happened.

“…a frustrating film because it’s almost good.”

There is plenty to like in this film: the cinematography artfully captures the claustrophobic space of the sub. The movie looks and sounds good. The pacing is good. There are a lot of positives that lead this film right up to the edge of greatness but it refuses to cross.

Where did Parker lose me? Oh, let me count the ways…. I’ll be brief-ish. You took a sub you know nothing about down to 180 meters depth and then beat the experienced pilot about the head and shoulders (literally) to force him to make it do stuff. There wasn’t a tech manual you could have flipped through on the flight over to familiarize yourself with the operation of the vehicle? A web page?

You sent three people on a deep sea mission who had apparently never been underwater before, as they know nothing of decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis, why you can’t pop the hatch at depth, and so on. The sub pilot, Mats (Johannes Kuhnke), has to explain why they couldn’t just swim up from180m without dying from the bends. Yet they appear to be something like a SEAL team?  SEALs know about diving, at a molecular level. If they weren’t a SEAL team, why were they not? This is the crap SEALs dream of doing. A SEAL team would have the military and technical knowledge, not to mention the professionalism to comport themselves in a way that would have completely invalidated the plot of the film. I may have answered my own question there, but that still doesn’t forgive the technical ignorance of the characters.

“…the cinematography artfully captures the claustrophobic space of the sub.

Another flaw is that the script borrows heavily… ok, let’s be honest, practically cribs it’s entire plot from James Cameron’s 1989 film The Abyss.  To wit: there’s a thing at the bottom of the ocean the military wants back. We’re not telling you what it is. Shit goes sideways when we get down there. Somebody is getting twitchy and dangerous because of High Pressure Neurological Syndrome (which, by the way, makes you shaky, not stabby). You can go right down the line point by point, they match. Except, spoiler, there are no aliens in The Chamber, to its detriment.

Charlotte Salt’s casting as team leader Edwards is problematic. As of now, there are no women SEALs. There were two candidates and they dropped out. Someday we will have women SEALs. I can promise you that when we do get a woman SEAL, she’s going to be big, muscular, tough, incredibly smart, laconic, and very even-tempered. Think Gina Carano as Angel Dust in Deadpool. She will not look like Salt, who is so physically slight she could be a fashion model.

Yes, it’s a movie and disbelief suspended. Understood. It’s also an Indie film with limited resources and we want to surface those films and give them an audience and support them. However, when technically inept choices are made that could be easily fixed by more familiarity with the subject and better dialog, I draw the line. That’s not an Indie film budget issue. That’s a “spend an extra half hour doing research on google” issue. Maybe talk with a diver?

The performances are workable, the actors make an admirable effort to sell it. Johannes Kuhnke as the sub pilot is particularly compelling.

Overall, despite some good moments, The Chamber is a near miss. It’s almost good.

The Chamber (2018) Written and directed by Ben Parker. Starring Johannes Kuhnke, Charlotte Salt, James McArdle.

5 out of 10

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