Single-location thrillers are never straightforward. Throw in some underwater filming and the odd spot of international relations and newcomer Ben Parker certainly didn’t make his first time behind the camera particularly easy for himself. Luckily for us though, the fresh-faced Brit pulls it off almost completely without a hitch, largely down to his impressively tight scripting.
Parker’s bare-bones plot finds a mild-mannered submarine pilot (Johannes Kuhnke) dragged into the middle of a mysterious mission by a trio of secretive American military-types, desperate to recover something from the ocean floor. The twist here being that said ocean just so happens to be North Korean waters, and the mission doesn’t exactly run smoothly, eventually leaving the group stranded on the seabed.
Roughly 90% of The Chamber takes place entirely in a tiny submarine roughly the size of a transit van, with just four characters, a number that then gradually begins to dwindle. Keeping such a modest set-up fresh and exciting for even half the film’s 90-minute run-time is an arduous task, but you’d never guess from watching Parker work.
The script wrangles between the central four nicely, only very quietly giving some bigger nods than others, whilst always developing the group’s individual identities beautifully in the background. The characters themselves may feel a little too archetypal at times, from the no-nonsense matriarch to the brash hot-head, but when their chemistry begins to spark it’s very easy to forget that they’re roles we’ve seen a thousand times before.
It’s really this core interplay between the group which keeps The Chamber alive. One weak link and the constant scuffles could very easily take a turn for the annoying, but through a mixture of neat dialogue and grounded performances (particularly the insanely loveable Kuhnke), Parker manages to build a tense thriller almost entirely around arguments and problem solving exercises, while every conflict these characters face moves the story forward massively; there’s no treading water here. Well, at least in the metaphoric sense.
True, the stakes only really begin to fully ramp up towards the film’s end, but all that comes before it remains a clever build to something significantly darker, making for a finale that’s very, very close to being actually quite heartbreaking. In the end it all seems to feel a tad too rushed to be fully affecting, but this doesn’t prove to be enough of a knock to capsize the picture by any means.
The Chamber is ultimately a pretty fascinating watch; a nod towards gentle progression that’s more about people than it is about blood and guts. A strange choice for a world premiere at FrightFest maybe, but that aside, this is one teeming with talent.