Make no mistake, this isn’t competing with the likes of The Abyss or Das Boot, either for expansive realism or for sweeping bottom of the ocean storytelling. But writer / director Ben Parker’s debut feature – made almost entirely in a single studio in Wales – is an impressive calling card that will almost certainly lead to much bigger and theoretically better things.
Ostensibly the story of four people trapped at the bottom of the sea, Parker makes a virtue of his single set and limited cast by calling in the clichés of his genre but playing his cards so authentically and naturally, it’s very easy to forget you’ve seen most of these moves before. Johannes Kuhnke is Mats, a Swedish submersible operator whose craft and expertise are co-opted by a three-man Special Ops team, searching for a piece of military equipment that has sunk to the bottom of a relatively shallow stretch of the Yellow Sea not far from the North Korean coast. Tensions are understandably fraught from the beginning, but while the mission proves initially successful its second phase doesn’t go so well, ratcheting up the tension as it becomes apparent that not everybody is going to make it back alive.
The premise itself is interesting but vague enough, a simple MacGuffin designed to isolate an unwilling Mats with three people he could presumably not have cared less about above water, but whose survival is now his first priority. James McArdle is Parks, who runs on a short fuse but never descends into exaggeration, while Elliot Levey is the team geek, while still managing to convince of his military origin. Charlotte Salt, meanwhile, plays team leader Red as a strong-willed woman without a hint of the caricature such characters often descend into, and Kuhnke himself is just as believable as the loner whose private world has been invaded quite so prejudicially.
The camerawork and editing are unfussy and make the most of the limited space, selling the claustrophobia without dwelling on or overemphasising it. And the Manics’ James Dean Bradfield has provided a score that is equally lacking in pretension, an uncluttered but galvanising backdrop to the action that adds to the tone of the film without distracting attention from the actors. And it is the acting that sells The Chamber, Parker teasing out four central performances that manage to be both nuanced and unyielding, avoiding theatricality while being resolute and convincing in commitment and authenticity.
The Chamber might easily have felt like a derivative home movie production blessed with an overachieving cast, but instead Ben Parker has created something that stands the comparison of its much more expensive counterparts and manages to eke out an identity of its own.
Special Features: commentary / making of featurette
THE CHAMBER (2016) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BEN PARKER / SCREENPLAY: BEN PARKER / STARRING: JOHANNES KUHNKE, CHARLOTTE SALT, JAMES McARDLE, ELLIOT LEVEY, DAVID HOROVITCH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW