Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) is a submersible pilot who has been assigned to a job out in the middle of the North Pacific, but as his Captain (David Horovitch) relates, this one is top secret and that makes them both uncomfortable seeing as how they are in international waters very close to North Korea. With the political climate being what it is, the danger of setting off an international incident must be very high, and understandably Mats would rather be without that to encounter, but a job is a job, and this team of three are determined to see their mission through while telling him as little about the specifics of what they are up to as possible. This does not sit too well with Mats - but he has no idea how bad it will get.
Although it might not appear so during the opening ten minutes, The Chamber, a feature debut from Wales by director Ben Parker, was essentially a single location movie, where the characters are placed in one set and allowed to get on with their differences as the drama unfolded. Often an identifying mark of a low budget project, this at least had a good excuse for its restrictions, as claustrophobia was the purpose of the thriller, making the audience feel every inch of that enclosed space and all the increasing panic in the process. Not that all the passengers in the minisub were going to be screaming their heads off the minute something went wrong, they were too professional for that.
Or were they? As The Chamber was more or less a disaster movie in the smallest scale possible without actually having people miniaturised a la Fantastic Voyage, we were expecting at least one of the trapped to go a bit doolaly to up the tension, and so it was. At first we are half anticipating the top secret mission to be of a science fiction nature - if you haven't seen The Abyss or Sphere, something like that, then you'll at least be aware of that territory - or even a horror such as the Deep Star Six or Leviathan affairs, yet that was not quite what was on offer. No matter that the temptation to deliver a slasher movie jolt in the latter stages was too much for Parker to resist, this was closer to chamber piece.
Albeit a chamber piece where the four characters are stuck with the peril of death breathing down their necks, which can focus the mind. Once they are down under the ocean and scouting the sea bed, the team leader Red (Charlotte Salt) is still keeping tight-lipped about what they are searching for, and another of the party is extremely antsy about Mats giving his location to the ship above, as if someone could be listening in. That turns out to be surprisingly accurate when the last radio message the sub receives tells Mats in an urgent tone that the vessel has been boarded and further communication is abruptly cut off, so what do they do now? Return to the surface, or wait it out with their six and a half hours of oxygen below? Will there actually be anything waiting for them up above? Friend or foe?
The stakes were raised when Red orders the mission to carry on, and that leads to a dilemma when the sub is trapped on the ocean floor, whereupon Parker, who was also on script duties, tightened the screws further as the already small space becomes figuratively tinier and tinier and tempers rise. The trouble with this is that after a while the film descended into a series of scenes of characters bickering with one another, which rather than making the story more exciting was wearing on the patience, and seeing as how Parker did not afford himself much breathing room, if you'll pardon the pun, to expand on the personalities of his encumbered potential victims we were left with what the actors could bring to the table. With Kuhnke, he managed a convincing delivery of a man who does this job day in, day out thanks to the details he was given which made the undersea practicalities authentic-sounding, but Salt was stuck with a hardnosed tough woman persona, admittedly more than the other two got, James McArdle a cartoon baddie. Yet for an exercise in sustained suspense within strict limits, The Chamber impressed. Music by James Dean Bradfield of The Manic Street Preachers.