Directed by: Ben Parker
Starring: Johannes Kuhnke, Charlotte Salt, James McArdle, Elliot Levey
MATS (say it right, its not Matthew or Matt btw) is happily submerged in his work and the Yellow Sea. His work on a Marine Research vessel involves spending hours alone in his mini sub, mapping the Ocean Floor for Geological Survey. The Survey Ship he works from is asked to do a favour for the United States Government one night and a three member Special Forces Team land on their deck by helicopter and requisition both Mats and his mini- Sub to help them carry out a secret mission. Completely unwilling and P.O'd about the situation Mats 'welcomes' aboard Commander and Team Leader 'Red' Edwards, volatile action man Parks and the more sober and considered technical specialist Denholm.
Mats is warned by his vessel's captain that he cannot be told the nature of the mission due to its classified nature and his attempts to elicit it anyway from the special forces team completely fail and actually build the resentment, suspicion and antagonism which as it slowly but inevitably spirals out of control...
The second outing but first feature from British Director Ben Parker has caught a lot of attention at festivals internationally including Raindance and Frightfest and with good reason. A slickly directed well acted claustrophobic drama with a couple of real twists and shock moments, The Chamber takes a rich subject, mistrust and confinement, and explores it thoroughly. After the establishing sequence the film is set almost entirely on the mini-sub, the design and construction of this went a long way to making this movie as impressive as it is. The camera positioning and lighting in the set enabling full coverage and allowing the interior of the sub to be made to seem smaller and suffocatingly confined or not depending on the action/ dialogue at the time.
And this is a big point for this film. Obviously a film largely contained in a very small space with a principle cast of four, three of whom are American military and the remainder an intellectually and emotionally aloof research scientist, it is hard to see the action being anything but short, one way and brutal.
The truth is that as the narrative develops and the pressures are heaped on the characters, violence does erupt and it doesn't go quite the way one might expect it to.
The tensions build as Mats digs his heels in and insists on captaining and operating the boat AND chipping away at commander Red's insistence that Mats cannot know the mission objective. Taking the position he does brings Mats into a course of conflict not so much with Red as with Parks. The most openly aggressive and callous member of the Special Forces Team who turns out to also be the most neurotic and unstable. What begins as Mats and Red having a predictable yet civil contest of wills becomes a nerve wracking prolonged bullying encounter as Parks loses his patience with this self important high minded civilian who doesn't realise what's at stake, and Mats becomes incensed with this ungrateful arrogant conceited violent thug who does not realise that he doesn't have command over Mats.
As brilliantly filmed acted and directed as this film is, and it is, with moments of cinematographic competence here which far exceed what might be expected from the budget and scale of the film, there are some weaker areas in the script. The establishing sequence starts off wonderfully. We are intrigued by this scandinavian at sea with a crew of south east Asians. Why is he there what are they doing? And the dialogue remains minimal allowing our curiosity to develop and building our engagement with the film. All to soon however the plot exposition is blatant and jarring. The set-up is not so complicated that it demands this much rambling explanation from Mats, his captain and then Red.
But this is probably a contentious gripe from me. If the viewer isn't 'au fait' with the current situation between the U.S and Korea or the position of independent but allied nations maybe it was actually necessary to spell a lot of this stuff out. Either way it doesn't harm the film badly.
The actors do very well indeed despite some of the dialogue feeling a little unpolished, they are all top notch and clearly well directed, continuity on a set like this is a serious technical challenge and it is done meticulously, everyone is on their marks consistently. A few of you might not be entirely convinced by the portrayal of U.S Military culture and attitudes. There were moments where I felt it wasn't quite authentic and that the troops wouldn't interact with Mats or their commander in quite that way, certainly not as early as they did, but who am I to say? A female commander of a tiny team in a sub with a civilian is perhaps a hard one to realise completely accurately and this is a drama after all.
A lot rests on your belief in the vessel and how it works, as much if not more than the personality clashes of the crew and this part is consistently well maintained. As a result this ambitious technically demanding film delivers its intended psychological assault more than capably and is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.
7 out of 10 (SULACO)