There is a certain air of inevitability to some of the events that happen in The Chamber (2016). With a rickety submarine, rising tensions between its crew and many unwise decisions being made by all of them, it’s easy to guess exactly which disastrous route they’re heading for. It comes as a surprise then that what writer-director Ben Parker has actually succeeded in creating turns out to be a fresh and exciting spin on the usual survival genre film, as well as something that is downright terrifying to watch.
During its opening moments however, The Chamber is an altogether different film. Parker purposely uses a slow yet determined pace, gradually building up his narrative before it hits thriller mode. He focuses on the bigger picture at work by setting the film’s events against a politically charged background (the submarine is heading into North Korean waters) and also taking the time to introduce us to his characters and the apprehensions some of them feel towards each other. Mats (Johannes Kuhnke), the pilot of the submarine, in particular feels a great amount of unease in taking three mysterious Special Ops soldiers down to the seabed, especially when he realises Edwards (Charlotte Salt) and her crew aren’t going to listen to any of his requests. With Mats left in the dark about why they are there and their final ‘plan’, Parker ensures he ekes out the tensions between them all until it reaches boiling point – a method that makes what follows all the more devastating, and all the more riveting too.
What starts as an unassuming drama then quickly becomes a frightening fight for survival, all four of them having to work together to find a way out of trouble. It is in these moments that the true, gripping horror of The Chamber emerges, something that is made all the more effective by the way in which Parker utilises his innovative setting. The ‘chamber’ of the film (“A patched-up tin can” as one of the characters calls it) is the absolute stuff of nightmares, for both the crew and us as viewers. The terrifying claustrophobic environment perfectly resonates onscreen, the characters trying to keep their heads together while trying not to fall over each other at the same time. One of the extras on this Blu-ray disc (a detailed featurette called ‘Beneath the Surface of The Chamber’) shows exactly how challenging it was to shoot in such a setting, something that makes you appreciate the sheer effort made by all sides of the production team behind this – an aspect that Parker goes into even more depth about in his informative commentary, also including on this Blu-ray disc.
That setting not only allows Parker to turn his story into a race against time, it also enables him to focus on the psychological effects of a place such as this – an idea often left out of other survival horrors. With the tensions between the four passengers already well established in the first half of the film, when it’s every person for themselves and the claustrophobia really starts to take hold, all hell breaks loose. It is these moments that add a fascinating human element to proceedings, lifting this above other similar films and giving it a frightening sense of realism, especially when it is backed up by some brilliant performances from the cast (Kuhnke and Salt are superb here, yet James McArdle and Elliot Levey as the other two crew members are also excellent throughout, especially during the latter half of the film).
Whether you’re claustrophobic or not, Parker really has succeeded in creating something that really gets into your head. A stunningly atmospheric score by James Dean Bradfield (of the Manic Street Preachers) further adds to the tension and dread permeating throughout, especially as the film reaches a sickeningly intense ending that will have you on the edge of your seat. Although it is hard to imagine revisiting The Chamber again after that initial adrenaline-pumping watch, there is much to admire here in what is a memorable and horrifically real film to experience, and one which must have been an absolute logistical nightmare to shoot. That this is also Ben Parker’s feature film debut makes it nothing short of incredible.