'The Chamber': Film Review
A four-person crew is trapped in a submersible at the bottom of the ocean in Ben Parker's thriller featuring Johannes Bah Kuhnke of 'Force Majeure.'
Swedish actor Johannes Bah Kuhnke, so compelling in 2015's acclaimed Force Majeure, deserved a more substantial follow-up feature than Ben Parker's directorial debut. Set mostly in a tiny submersible trapped at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of North Korea, The Chamber earns a few points for topicality. But this B-movie thriller fails to go beyond its familiar underwater peril tropes, providing as nearly a claustrophobic experience for viewers as its characters.
Kuhnke plays Mats, the Swedish pilot of the submersible, belonging to a commercial research vessel, that's been commandeered by a three-person U.S. Special Ops team. They've boarded the vessel because they have a secret mission involving the recovery of a drone that…does it matter, really? The exact nature of the mission falls under the heading of what Alfred Hitchcock famously dubbed a "MacGuffin," and you'll forget it moments after watching the film.
Besides Mats, the team includes its no-nonsense female leader Red (Charlotte Salt, The Tudors, displaying an impressively convincing American accent) and her underlings Parks (James McArdle) and Denholm (Elliot Levey), who seem to have been picked because of how their personality traits perfectly complement each other. It's clear why Red is in charge of the operation, since she's the sort of tough cookie who, when one of the men panics, has no trouble dislocating his shoulder. And then, when he calms down, just as efficiently snapping it back into place.
Mats isn't thrilled by these interlopers' usurpation of his pride and joy, where he seems to know every rivet intimately. But he has little choice in the matter, with his expertise needed to safely guide them all into the depths that, as anyone who's seen a submarine move before well knows, tend to cause problems.
Such is inevitably the case here, when Red insists on setting off an explosion to destroy the drone despite Mat's protestations that it's too dangerous. Soon enough, the disabled sub is trapped underwater, one of the men is severely injured and the oxygen starts running out. And by the way, there are four people onboard and only two escape suits.
The filmmaker, making the most of the sort of single, cramped location that can be so helpful when it comes to getting financing for low-budget thrillers, invests the proceedings with sufficient visual tension and variety to keep viewers at least mildly involved. Far less involving, unfortunately, are the dialogue and characterizations, which are strictly perfunctory. Every situation seems familiar from similarly themed thrillers, including the panicky crewmember whose reckless behavior puts everyone else at risk.
Kuhnke and Salt offer some compensation with their solid performances, even if it's hard not to wish they had better material. Another strong element is the propulsive score by Manic Street Preachers' James Dean Bradfield, which ups the tension considerably.
Production companies: Chamber Films, Edicis, Ffilm Cymru Wales
Cast: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Charlotte Salt, James McArdle, Elliot Levey
Director-screenwriter: Ben Parker
Producers: Jen Handorf, Paul Higgins
Executive producers: Hugh Spearing, Jim Reeve, Adam Partridge, Robert Halami
Director of photography: Benjamin Pritchard
Production designers: Bryon Broadbent, Greg Shaw
Editor: Will Gilbey
Composer: James Dean Bradfield
Costume designer: Jon Revell
Casting: Kirsty Kinnear