Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Chamber

This isn’t James Cameron’s top of the line submersible. The cranky Swedish researcher’s craft is held together chewing gum and defiance. It is the last sub a special ops team would want to commandeer, but desperate times call for desperate measures. They become even more desperate when disaster strikes in Ben Parker’s The Chamber (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select cities.

The Chamber has been on the shelf for a spell after its initial festival run, so as a result, it feels somewhat dated, in an unlikely way. It is not that we cannot believe the news reports of North Korea behaving badly, interspersed throughout the opening credits. On the contrary, we can believe them so well, it is hard to join Parker’s hand-wringing over the wisdom of the mission and its execution. Three Navy SEAL-like commandos have been ordered to retrieve a memory card from a drone shot down over DPRK waters and destroy the drone, so most viewers will agree they darn well better retrieve the memory card and destroy the drone. End of moral dilemma.

Of course, Mats doesn’t know that. He is only along because he knows how best to pilot his temperamental submersible. He is on the strictest need-to-know basis, so he acts like a churlish five-year-old throughout the entire first act. The team leader, “Red” Edwards tries to make nice, but Mats prefers to be a pill. He definitely rubs Parks the wrong way, which is unfortunate, because he is the biggest of the three—and he will soon go a little nutty from pressure sickness.

It is painfully obvious Parker does not know anyone in the military from his depictions of the commandos. First of all, nobody has to explain the bends to a Navy SEAL, even if he is in the throes of full scale undersea-pressure-induced psychosis. Nor would an elite group act like teenagers moaning and griping at each other. None of the men would ever second guess Edwards’ decision to blow the drone. Frankly, they are prepared for these kinds of extreme eventualities.

If you want to see a thriller about trapped people dealing with limited oxygen and burgeoning psychosis, catch up with Ben Ketai’s not bad Beneath. It also features some nice performances from Witchblade’s Eric Etebari and the great Jeff Fahey. Unfortunately, only Charlotte Salt is convincing as the cool and collected Edwards. At least Elliot Levey projects a suitably intelligent presence for the tech guy, but he looks like he would be hard-pressed by basic training. On the other hand, no military man would carry himself in the manner of James McArdle’s obnoxious and argumentative Parks. However, nobody is more insufferable than Johannes Bah Kuhnke as the grating Mats.

Yes, sometimes the military has to do things that aren’t very nice and sometimes they even die. That is the price they pay for our freedom and security. They certainly understand that better than Parker does. He just gets everything wrong about the military mindset and personality, in ways that directly undermine the film. Not recommended, The Chamber opens tomorrow (2/23) in theaters and on iTunes.