The Chamber (2016) is a taut, often bleak horror-cum-thriller set in the claustrophobic environment of a mini-submersible. Tensions run high both inside and out, with the conflicting politics of an ambiguous mission clashing with the need to survive, all set against a backdrop of straying into hostile North Korean waters. Inevitably, something goes wrong.
Début feature director Ben Parker has created an atmospheric, deeply uncomfortable film that challenges you to face your own fear of confined spaces. Ben took some time out to sit down with us to discuss his influences, his fears, and how having a musical superstar on board can help get an independent film made.
Diabolique: Welcome Ben. I think the first question that needs to be asked is if you are claustrophobic at all?
Ben Parker: (laughs) I am, yes, a little. I don’t shut down, but I certainly don’t like being in small places. To me, The Chamber is a horror film, and when you’re writing it helps if you can imagine the situation. This being my first feature, I wasn’t expecting it to get off the ground, but I guess it’s karma teaching me a lesson. “Now you have to go and film it!”
Diabolique: There are three main factors at play in the film: the claustrophobic element, the finite timescale from the incoming water, and the location. Which idea came first, and how did that idea develop into the finished film?
Parker: I’ve been asked this before, and to be honest I tend to give a different answer each time. Not because I’m trying to be spontaneous or anything, but because it’s all one big melting pot really. I tend to keep the ideas in my head until they develop into a story. My uncle used to test pilot submersibles of this size so the stories he told were always in my mind. At the same time James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) was around, so that’s in there too. Writing stories knowing you’re going to have the budget of an independent film kind of leads you toward setting it in one location too, if you can. And then there’s the political aspect, the forthright Americans against the more laid-back European pilot. It all melts around for a while and then one day, there’s something there to get going with.
Diabolique: How did you film the underwater scenes on a budget?
Parker: We have some shots of real subs for the exteriors, but they were quite fleeting. Then we had an option of doing some CGI but we decided instead to build a set on a gimble that went through 360 degrees, and we built our own tank for the film, which while a logistical nightmare, paid off in the end.
Diabolique: You put your cast through quite an ordeal. Was the casting process, or the rehearsals specifically geared towards what you were going to do?
Parker: We decided to shoot in chronological order and we knew we only had 22 days to shoot the film, so it was always going to be tight. The Navy SEALS guys got on really well so we didn’t have to workshop their relationships too much. Also, shooting in order meant the stress and fatigue build as you’re going along, and the constant water-logging, so that’s all in there. To be fair, the cast never really complained and handled it better than me. We had to do a small pick up much later so I jumped into the suit and was submerged and it was awful. I don’t know how they did it.
Diabolique: Watching The Chamber, you can’t help holding your breath at certain moments.
Parker: A couple of people told me they were holding their breath when reading the end of the script so I knew that if we could transfer that reaction to the film we’d be okay. We actually held back a little as in the end we thought some of the scenes might be too stressful for the actors.
Diabolique: You mentioned not expecting to get the film off the ground. Would you say that an element of luck and timing is required to make a film independently?
Parker: I’ve written lots of scripts, and I have a day job creating film posters. I figured I’d make some shorts, send a few scripts around, and one might get picked up. It wasn’t until I got serious about making a short with a larger budget that doors started opening. It was the need to prove I could take on something of a larger scale and budget. But it’s still tough. I had a horror film we were trying to get off the ground for two years which hasn’t yet happened, and I wrote The Chamber in and around doing that. Really what you need are great producers who will convince everybody it’s going to work. Also, having James Dean Bradfield involved really helped.
Diabolique: Since you bring that up, how did that collaboration come about?
Parker: Initially it came from the script and not from asking him to do the soundtrack. As we were going to be filming in Wales, the script got to him somehow through the producers. James is a huge film fan and wants to see good things happen in Wales, so he asked how he could help. I just said if you agreed to score the film that would be great and it went from there.
Diabolique: The Chamber has been a hit at festivals. How important are these for independent filmmakers?
Parker: I’m really glad that Frightfest and Grimmfest (a festival based in Manchester, UK) championed it as it’s a chance for audiences to see films on the big screen that they wouldn’t normally see in cinemas. For me it’s about hanging out with other filmmakers and fans, and similarly-minded people. It’s a great experience.
Diabolique: What’s next for you?
Parker: I have a few projects in the wings but nothing is definite yet. I have a World War II film in development called Werewolves, but I’m certain I’ll have to change the title as that sounds just a little too much like a horror (laughs).
The Chamber is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 20th March 2017 and a review of the film will follow later this week.