Film

'The Chamber' Keeps the Drama and Suspense Going

The Chamber is the filmic equivalent of a fairground ride, the stimulation of emotion over ideas.


The Chamber

Director: Ben Parker
Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Charlotte Salt, James McArdle

The claustrophobic story of four characters trapped in a submersible vessel is a bold move for a feature directorial debut. While it's a choice that affords writer-director Ben Parker control over his location, it's also one that offers him little flexibility -- trapped on his own claustrophobic stage with his small ensemble cast.

A further bold move is the film's gamble on suspense alone, offsetting Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944) and Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957) -- two masterpieces of suspenseful and claustrophobic drama. While Lifeboat confronts the subject of justice and the humane amidst paranoia and fear of the ‘other’ in wartime, Lumet’s jury drama looks to the themes of justice and social responsibility.

Meanwhile, Chris Crow’s recent spatially restricted psychological-drama, The Lighthouse, ruminates on how the identity of our world is one shaped through human perspective. If Hitchcock, Lumet and Crow respectively underpin their technical exercises with ideas, Parker positions himself to succeed or fail on the merit of the former alone.

The Chamber struggles in its opening scenes, weighed down with expositional dialogue that aims to establish Mats’ (Johannes Kuhnke) reluctant yet dutiful relationship to his vessel. It's a reflection of human sentimentality for the non-human. From Star Trek’s Scotty to Star Wars’ Han Solo, Mats’ affection towards his rust bucket has similar shades of good humour that serves the film well. Yet fulfilling the purpose to connect us with Mats while also establishing the ambiguous mission into North Korean waters, the opening is one Parker is forced to recover from rather than to build upon.

Throughout there's an uneasy friction between dialogue and performance. The naturalism found in the human moments of the drama lacking in others, particularly Edwards' (Charlotte Salt) authoritarian stances. Here the naturalism is replaced by a heightened theatricality, echoing the rigid dialogue and onscreen presence of John Wayne in his war roles. If Parker is looking for a rawness to emphasise the rigidity of the military identity versus human frailty and emotion, then he's successful. Although whether Parker should have followed Hitchcock's advice to enter the story at the last possible minute and lose the weak opening is a criticism that haunts the film, regardless.

If there's an air of predictability that permeates The Chamber, it only adds to the overall enjoyment. Yet there's a subtle skill in Parker’s execution, avoiding the extremes of his characters to create a conflict in his audience. Parks (James McArdle) is not a one-dimensional antagonist because in spite of his volatility, his fear and reactions strike us as reasonable. If Edwards is governed by her military instincts, then Parks is governed by his survival instinct. Unlike a traditional antagonist we understand his point of view and anger, while we silently question how we should feel about Edwards. Parker shows a willingness to conform, yet also shows that he's not afraid to play around with archetypes and audience expectations.

The Chamber is the filmic equivalent of a fairground ride, the stimulation of emotion over ideas. Yet in as far as it's a successful technical exercise, it's also a spirited film capable of enduring. Not only is the drama and suspense sustained within its running time, but it does so across a repeat viewing, allowing for a deeper appreciation of the character moments. It's here in revealing another side to itself that the success of Parker's bold debut is best appreciated.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image