Dir/scr. Ben Parker. UK, 2016. 88mins.
Submarine movies are usually exercises in claustrophobia, but this Welsh-made suspense film - set in North Korean waters - takes things to the sort of extremes usually found only in trapped-in-a-room movies like Cube or Exam.
Director Ben Parker crams plenty of drama into a small space and clipped running time
Without name value stars, or the shark which add value to watery trap movies like In The Deep and The Shallows, it seems a marginal theatrical proposition, but its efficient suspense and moments of shock - some very nasty wounds - make it a decent item for various home-viewing platforms. Debuting writer-director Parker is likely to land higher-profile gigs on the strength of his work here.
During the first few minutes topside, Swedish submersible pilot Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) is ordered by his skipper to take US covert ops specialist Red (Charlotte Salt) and two minions (Elliot Levey, James McArdle) down to the sea-bed on a secret mission. The rest of the film takes place in the title chamber where, after retrieving data from a downed drone, Red orders that the unmanned aircraft be destroyed to keep it out of enemy hands, ignoring Mats’ warning that setting off a bomb near his rusty old hulk is a bad idea.
In the event, the submersible is turned upside-down, water starts rising inside, one man is direly wounded by a bolt that shoots through him like a bullet, another demonstrates the maniac qualities a tough guy always succumbs to in sub-movies (cf: Michael Biehn in The Abyss) and Mats has to MacGyver a solution despite having only two escape suits for four people. It’s also possible that the surface support vessel has been boarded by the North Koreans, turning the screws even further.
Director Ben Parker crams plenty of drama into a small space and clipped running time, with an escalating series of contrivances to give his sweating, bleeding cast of characters a miserable, waterlogged time. It’s an effective thriller, though only the engaging Kuhnke (star of Force Majeure) gets more to play than stock drama as the lumpen civilian who proves himself smarter than the military-espionage professionals, with Salt doing hard-bitten-chick-who-mellows-in-extremis, Levey playing long-suffering-and-decent and McCardle as violent-loose-cannon-who-makes-things-worse.
A political conspiracy angle is also undercooked, even though it seems an apolitical scientific vessel is being co-opted to US national interests.
Production Companies: Chamber Films, Edicis, Ffilm Cymru Wales
Producers: Jennifer Handorf, Paul Higgins
Executive Producers: Adam Partridge, Jim Reeve, Hugh Spearing
Cinematography: Benjamin Pritchard
Editor: Will Gilbey
Music: James Dean Bradfield
Production Designers: Bryon Broadbent, Greg Shaw
Cast: Charlotte Salt, Johannes Kuhnke, Elliot Levey, Christian Hillborg, James McArdle