In the Yellow Sea off the coast of South Korea the research vessel Yongang sits at anchor, ostensibly in international waters yet too close to Seoul for comfort and the mood on board is tense. Few words are exchanged yet the crew move with purpose preparing for the dive of the submersible Aurora, a mission the details of which are “need to know,” pilot Mats very much out of the loop.
Normally only carrying Mats and one passenger he has been pressured to take a complement of three to the sea bed, twitchy Denholm, keeping his head down and careful not to rock the boat, hot headed Parks, seeing himself as the alpha and chafing at his subordinate postion, and arrogant Edwards who makes it clear that although Mats may be in charge of the Aurora she is in charge of the mission.
The passengers antagonistic from the outset, Mats’ attempts to engage them are rebuffed and Edwards is equally abrupt with Denholm when she feels he is divulging information beyond what is strictly required, instead demanding Mats scan the sea bed within the grid reference and saying only that their target will be obvious when found, and in the confined space the tempers continue to fray.
A low budget thriller set for the most part within a single location and the debut feature of writer/director Ben Parker, The Chamber makes the most of the limited resources with the custom built set of the Aurora, “old, scrappy and fragile,” able to flip over and constructed in a pit to allow it to be flooded as the seals fail and the cold sea begins to seep in.
The multilingual dialogue reflecting the various production partners and the international cast though it was principally filmed in Cardiff, the mood of tension is conveyed from the opening scenes but never evolves as fully it should, the threat within and without laid out in broad strokes, the characters on the whole unlikeable and never as deep as the water in which they find themselves.
Overconfident and unprofessional, the focus of Edwards (Bedlam‘s Charlotte Salt) is the completion of the mission to the exclusion of all else. Failing to see that the best way to achieve her goal is to trust the people around her to know their jobs, she lies, she bullies, she withholds information, claiming that “contingencies have been planned” in order to convince her team to proceed despite Mats’ justified concerns.
Repeating the same circular arguments, Edwards has no control over Parks (The Force Awakens‘ James McArdle) and her promises to Denholm (Da Vinci‘s Demons‘ Elliot Levey) are meaningless. Only Mats (Force Majeure‘s Johannes Kuhnke) remains calm, aware of the danger of the sea and the limitations of his forty year old vessel, trying to see a way out but like Cassandra his warnings ignored.
With such a minimal premise the script is everything and Parker’s strength is clearly as a technical director rather than a writer, the pressure of the situation expressed by shouting rather than problem solving, a bottle film driven by unreasonable people when more complex characters in a situation where the challenge rises as fast as the water would have been more involving and emotionally engaging.
The Chamber is released by StudioCanal on Monday 20th March