Movie Review: Stuck in the deep blue sea in “The Chamber”

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There are hard and fast rules to submarine thrillers.

A gauge — any gauge — has to stick and somebody has to tap it to get it to work.

Everybody thinks it, but SOMEbody’s got to actually say “I’m not gonna DIE down here!”

And it’s always just a matter of time before that first rivet pops or seal fails.

“The Chamber” is a pitiless and cliched but compact undersea thriller about everything that can go wrong at depth. Everything.

Johannes Kuhnke) of “Force Majeure” is Matts, a Scandinavian submersible pilot who is ordered to take his vessel, with three U.S. agents of some sort, to the bottom of the Yellow Sea. As they vessel had been under contract to a South Korean research team, he can guess where they’re going, if not what they’re looking for. And he’s not happy about it.

“You may be in charge of this mission,” he hisses to Ms. Bossypants (Charlotte Salt of “The Tudors”). “But I know this sub.”

Who cares? She’s got muscle (James McArdle) and brains (Elliot Levey) with her. She can run this show without him.

He quickly catches on that he’s caught in the middle “of a very large geopolitical situation,” and he resists. With dire consequences. Fist fighting in an aged, fragile and compact submersible is never a good idea.

“We will COMPLETE the op…in full,” Red (Salt) says with as much cryptic menace as she can manage. And that’s a lot. No matter how many times Matts shows he won’t play along, she refuses to keep him restrained. No many how many times she calls him “Matt,” he won’t warm to her.

And the survival of one and all and the success of the mission depends on correcting both those shortcomings. At least until that first rivet pops.

Writer-director Ben Parker folds in all the requisite crises here, compounding every melodramatic flourish with the claustrophobia of this very tiny space they’re bickering, brawling and maybe breathing their last in.

There’s a modicum of suspense, the sense that not all will survive and casting that gives away who has the best chance. It’s a shame everybody involved, including self-righteous Matts, is so unpleasant there’s nobody to root for.

Salt manages the flinty one-note she’s asked to play, and despite being Australian, she never lets on that she’s not an American. McArdle flies off the handle well, even if his character’s supposed to have been trained out of that.

Kuhnke makes Matts a pacifist who isn’t shy about fighting the insensate brutes (Red included) who have the power of life and death over him. It’s a trickier tightrope that the actor has to walk and Kuhnke manages it with a little sea/street cred.

The “mission” or “op” is a standard-issue “Macguffin,” a plot device of less import here than is usual in such movies. Parker doesn’t ratchet up suspense by keeping us aware of the clock ticking down on their oxygen, their battery life or their options.

And don’t even ask about the payoff.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: Unrated, graphic violence, profanity

Cast: Charlotte Salt, Johannes KuhnkeJames McArdle, Elliot Levey

Credits:  Written and directed by Ben Parker. A Cinedigm release.

Running time: 1:30

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