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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dark Chamber
Dark Chamber
Shock-O-Rama // R // February 26, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted February 29, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Think equal parts Fincher's Panic Room and Hitchcock's Rear Window on a pennies-between-the-cushions budget, and you've got Dave Campfield's close quartered creepout, Dark Chamber. Though it wears its budget constraints on its sleeve for all to see, the core material involving surveillance and cult-tied murder comes pretty close to surmounting its monetary hindrances. It's a taut, engaging little sliver of voyeuristic chaos that infuses believable technological elements into its paranoia.

The Film:

After several years away and completely fed up with his mother's drug abuse, Justin (Eric Conley) has departed to stay with his police detective father (David Rigg). When he returns to his place, he discovers that the upstairs rooms have been cleaned out and used for three apartment units. Each of these units encase three bizarre tenants: a couple with monetary and communicational issues that stems from the writer husband, a set of sisters that includes one massage therapist and one mentally unstable artist, and a elderly gentlemen who frequents prostitutes in his darkened room. You might ask, how does the viewer grow so intimate with these tenants? It's all through surveillance.

One night, a young girl newly infatuated with Justin is murdered outside of his father's home. She seems to be the victim of cult activity, one caused by a band called the Black Circle. Interestingly enough, several of these plot points and characteristics come influenced from actual events, as the Black Circle apparently was a legit cult responsible for several ritual deaths. Justin, not so comfortable with his new neighbors in his father's home, suspect the tenants as murderers. Through some discussion with an old friend, Justin decides the best way to figure out whether the tenants are involved in cult activity is to wire their places with cameras to monitor their activity

From here, Dark Chamber delves into a blend of chills, chuckles, and fluttering nerves as Justin and his crew observe the activities of each tenant. As they piece together little puzzle contrivances from the leaked clues they attempt to decipher, Campfield's film builds an equally concerted curiosity within the audience. Since little is known about the cult, each character in the film feels equally suspect in the larger whodunit web. Dark Chamber's script makes certain not to bog down the mood with too much stringency in its hour-and-a-half with the audience, breaking moments of inquisitive spying with some dashes of humor here and there. As comfort settles in, Campfield re-engineers the film back to a focused, straining dissection of characters and their personal moral struggles.

For a film shot on a miniscule budget, Dark Chamber shows a lot of expansiveness with its design. Campfield shows his chops as a contingency director by formulating solid solutions to space issues. He filmed each and every interior scene within one location, and his solid camera tricks really sell both the claustrophobia and believability of the scenario. Should Campfield ascend into situations with higher budgets, he could really make the use of each and every dollar spent for the film's progression. Here, the richness of the story flows well because of his frugal direction, not in spite of.

Dark Chamber's script, in general, is pretty darn solid. Campfield has a knack with solid verbose, even when the characters speaking the dialogue lack the momentum to keep up with its fluidity. Dark Chamber integrates several personalities, both erratic and complacent, to the script, yet most of them don't feel like wasted space. The mentally disturbed artist broods with enough anguish to be suspect, while the heavier-set man in another apartment rages with volition to be murderous in a different sort of light. Granted, the link at the beginning between the Christian boy Justin and the pseudo-stoned red-headed victim didn't seem completely natural, though it unfolds and complicates in equal sensibility later on; however, this bizarre link that the film hinges on does skate by with just enough flavor and interest to make the pious Justin's search believable.

It's an eerie film, one with a flush level of tension and bustling nerves surrounding the believability. Dark Chamber kept me scratching my head until the end, maybe not so much for the end result but for exactly how the interlaced narrative would completely unfurl. This is Campfield's first real opportunity behind the director's chair; even though Dark Chamber has rough spots with the performances he culled from his actors and a few points where the film drags in pacing, this freshman debut is an edgy, sardonic mystery that creates an erratic environment ideal for second-guessing.

The DVD:

Dark Chamber comes from Shock-O-Rama in a standard clear keepcase presentation with artwork on both sides illustrating key scenes from the film.

The Video:

Technically, Dark Chamber isn't as strong as the rest of the package. Presented in a non-anamorphic letterbox image (even though it states "HDTV compatible"), Dark Chamber really shows its budget constraints here. Though the film's color correction looked fine, the overall haze and level of detail really doesn't help push the film along. No glitches or digital blips popped up, but overall the film's clever cinematography has to be seen through an average low-budget fluffy blur.

The Audio:

Dark Chamber's Dolby Stereo 2.0 track isn't fantastic either, but it still gets the job done. The vocals strained a bit, yet after seeing the way the audio has been restored in the bonus features you'd be hard-pressed not to be mildly impressed with the way it sounds. The rich soundtrack sounds fine, while no other considerably detracting distortion reared its ugly head.

The Extras:

Good film, sub-par aesthetic presentation. However, Dark Chamber comes completely and utterly packed with supplemental material:

Audio Comemntary with Dave Campfield:
I've said it before and I'll say it again: audio commentaries with independent filmmakers provide some of the more interesting tracks out there. Campfield completely delves into all the troubles in making the film, from aesthetics and performances to contingencies, thus illustrating the complete pathway it takes towards getting a solid low-budget film to be realized.

Audio Commentary with Isolated Tracks and Assorted Participants:
In general, this is a more laid back track that brings the music of the film prominently to the foreground. In several points, audio portions are isolated and, at times, presented with different music than what played in the film. Many different people involved with the filmmaking process, including the band Blue Moon Harem, include quips here and there in between the isolated score tidbits.

The Story of Dark Chamber:
This featurette pieces together the pathway of crafting the script and utilizing the budget to fluently craft the film. Campfield is on-camera a lot in this piece, as are the other actors and actresses in the film. It runs around 17 minutes and gives more surface-level analyses than the audio commentary, though it offers some great screentime with Campfield regarding the troublesome aspects (i.e. shooting schedules, long days, etc.) of Dark Chamber.

On The Set:
This is an 8-minute piece that fuses together footage captured on the last few days on the set of the film. It shows behind-the-scenes and after scene footage, as well as some more interviews and such with the actors. It does show some nice director / actor footage that displays Campfield's directive style.

Turning 1 Room Into 4:
Campfield takes the help in this 5-minute expose on how he transformed his parents' house into the confined areas captured in the film. He gives away a lot of his secrets in this piece, even down to how he falsely propped up doors and walls for illusion effect.

Inside the Black Circle:
This featurette highlights the truth behind the Black Circle, the cult featured in the film. It tells the violent and heartbreaking story, features photographs of the members, and shows locations near the shoot where the acts took place.

Also included are Alternative Scenes, several Conversations with Felissa Rose, Desiree Gould, and Raine Brown, a few goofy Bloopers, a Music Video for the song "Addiction" from the film, as well as other Shock-O-Rama Trailers.


Final Thoughts:

In all, Dave Campfield's Dark Chamber deconstructs and assembles an eerie puzzle in pseudo Hitchcock-ian fashion. There's charm present in its B horror / mystery persona, yet there's even more strength lying underneath thanks to a solid script. Fans of B-level flicks and film enthusiasts eager for a DVD package loaded with great extras on the assembly of the film should find enough here for a couple of viewings. Since the technical aspects of the DVD aren't stellar, most casual film lovers and mystery enthusiasts out there will have just enough fun with this for a Rental purely for the strength in Campfield's debut.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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