Claustrophobic thriller directed by Britain's Ben Parker, featuring Johannes Kuhnke
After enduring a near-miss avalanche in Force Majeure, Swedish star Johannes Kuhnke once again confronts the elements in this submarine-set thriller from British writer-director Ben Parker. The pitch-black depths of the Yellow Sea may be a world away from the sunny peaks of the French Alps, but this exploration of the extreme consequences of a single, split-second decision is similar both in theme and ominous tone.
Kuhnke is Mats, a Swedish submarine captain who is duped into diving off the North Korean coast by a team of three covert US military operatives led by the tough-talking Red (Charlotte Salt). When they hit the seabed, however, the real mission becomes clear and Mats attempts to abort, leading to a catastrophic event. With their ship above them out of radio contact, and the submarine rapidly turning into a coffin, Mats and his passengers must reluctantly learn to work together if they are going to survive.
Parker and his cast make good use of the claustrophobic setting which, as tempers flare and the situation gets increasingly dire, feels skin-crawlingly uncomfortable. With little space in which to manoeuvre, cinematographer Benjamin Pritchard's camera becomes an unwilling fifth passenger, unable to be anything but an up-close-and-personal witness to the horrors that unfurl in the cramped confines of the creaking, stricken vessel. The sound design, too, is excellent.
The intimate surroundings are reflected in an introspective narrative which runs the gamut of emotion from bull-headed pride to hand-wringing despair. Facing their own mortality, and with the weight of the world on their heads, the fears and faiths of the characters are laid bare – existential musings that are somewhat blunted by a screenplay that too often succumbs to cliché, such as in its geopolitical setting and the budding romance between Mats and Red, which is as obvious as it is ill-fated.
Still, as a small-scale, single-location modern disaster movie in the vein of Lebanon and Buried, The Chamber is an undeniably tense watch with a subversive, gut-punch ending. While not plumbing any real genre depths, it should prove a solid and lucrative calling card for its clearly talented debut director.
Selected release from Fri 10 Mar.