Throughout the years, horror films have strived to take advantage of the fears, both rational and irrational, that plague humankind. Whether it be eight-legged, fang-brandishing, giant alien arachnids, murderous clowns, or simply being plunged into darkness, genre masters from Carpenter to Craven have sought to prey on our terrors. And Ben Parker, writer and director of The Chamber (2016), is no different.
Having carved out a life in pursuit of minding his own business, mini-submersible operator Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) finds himself drawn into a political nightmare when his vehicle is effectively hijacked by some mysterious special forces types led by the assertive Red (Charlotte Salt). Searching for something at the bottom of the ocean, with information on a need-to-know basis and tensions already high, things inevitably go from bad to very, very much worse.
The path of The Chamber is well-trodden in its simplicity, but Parker’s direction gives the familiar story a thrilling pace that, at times, verges on pure horror. The claustrophobic, oppressive enclosure of the submersible’s interior means little work is required in heightening that fear on its own, but when leaks begin to appear through the character’s misguided actions the story begins to pick up. The fear is almost palpable, and unarguably discomforting as you are forced to watch four people desperately search for a solution to their predicament, all the while suspecting their actions may be entirely in vain.
As much as the setting itself is the real antagonist of the film, it is the straining relationships between the captive crew that keep the narrative moving. Occasionally some of the dialogue feels a little forced and repetitive, but given the situation, that’s largely excusable and for the most part the script comes across naturalistic, delivered as it is with weighty conviction. Kuhnke, best known for Force Majeure (2014), is impressive as Mats, a calm, rational man who resents the presence of the military in “his” submarine. Salt is equally on form, in a role that could easily have become the token aggressive woman aboard, with her character revealing hidden vulnerabilities as the story progresses.
With a score from Manic Street Preacher’s frontman James Dean Bradfield (making his first foray into film composition) that moodily enhances the stressful atmosphere and with Parker’s subtle, hand-held style of direction that centres you right in the scene, The Chamber is an accomplished debut feature. Of course, it does very much what you’d expect from a film focussing on four people trapped in a small can at the bottom of the ocean, but it does so with a refreshing enthusiasm that keeps you engaged until the last few breaths.
The Chamber has a limited cinema release from 10th March and is released on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD on 20th March.