Netflix’s ‘Chambers’ Is a Body-Horror Disasterpiece
The Uma Thurman and Tony Goldwyn-starrer, dropping April 26 on the streamer, is a huge misfire.
There isn’t a single inventive scare lurking in Chambers, a 10-episode Netflix original that seems like it was devised by the streaming service’s famed algorithm.
Embellishing a 13 Reasons Why template with stock supernatural insanity, Leah Rachel’s series (premiering April 26) concerns the twisty-turny investigation into the death of Becky Lefevre (Lilliya Scarlett Reid), a well-to-do blonde Arizona teenager who perished in a mysterious accident. The cause of Becky’s untimely demise is potentially related to a cast of shady characters, both young and old. Yet the twist isn’t that Becky was offed under shadowy circumstances—it’s that the sleuth leading the inquiry is Sasha (Sivan Alyra Rose), the organ-transplant recipient of Becky’s heart.
Sasha, a Native American girl who’s been denied a relationship with her heritage by her long-haired, heavily tattooed uncle Frank (Marcus LaVoi), is driven to learn more about Becky not only because she’s grateful for her ticker, but because she can “feel” Becky inside her. If that sounds eerily reminiscent of Body Parts, the 1991 thriller in which Jeff Fahey gradually loses control of his transplanted arm (which belonged to a serial killer!), that’s because it is—except here, the conceit is drawn out to absurd lengths, such that it won’t take audiences nearly as long as Sasha to figure out what, precisely, is going on. That calamitous situation is compounded by the jumbled nature of the plot itself, which shoves issues of grief, guilt, addiction, identity, ethnicity, religion and social/economic divides into a proverbial creative blender. No matter the participation of Uma Thurman and Tony Goldwyn, the resultant mixture is a sloppy mess.
Chambers takes its sweet time establishing its premise, doling out clues about Sasha’s spooky state of affairs in drips and drabs. Saved by Becky’s aorta after suffering a heart attack at the very moment she was going to lose her virginity to boyfriend TJ (Griffin Powell-Arcand), Sasha reluctantly agrees to meet Becky’s parents Ben (Goldwyn) and Nancy (Thurman), whose teen son Elliot (Nicholas Galitzine) is an empathy-deficient drug addict. They’re an upper-class clan who, destabilized by the loss of their beloved Becky, are intent on bringing Sasha into their swanky fold, first by offering her a scholarship to attend Becky’s ritzy high school, and later by giving her the keys to their dead child’s Prius. Such generosity seems strange to Sasha and Frank, who supports them both by running an aquatic pet store. Nonetheless, given their wrong-side-of-the-tracks struggles, they’re compelled to accept this golden opportunity to improve Sasha’s prospects.
It’s not long before Sasha is plagued by visions of Becky in windows, mirrors and her dreams, which are also populated by menacing masked figures and a boy that Sasha will eventually meet. That the deceased girl is trapped inside Sasha is a fact staring everyone square in the face (even the title credits meld their countenances together), and yet Chambers has its characters move toward that revelation at a crawl. More frustrating still, many of its primary players do realize that Sasha is exhibiting Becky-ish traits—Ben notes that she knows how to tie boating knots, despite having never sailed; Nancy sees her twirl her hair and mutter things just like adolescent Becky—only to then intermittently forget about it, the better to prolong matters and postpone climactic confrontations about these patently paranormal events.
Sasha soon assumes Becky’s life at school—where she interacts with stalker-ish Penelope (Lilli Kay), overly helpful Marnie (Sarah Mezzanotte), Marnie’s beau Ravi (Jonny Rios), and understanding guidance counselor Coach Jones (Michael Stahl-David)—and at home, where she becomes a surrogate daughter for the Lefevres. Since Sasha lost her mom at a young age, she’s receptive to Nancy’s maternal affection. Unfortunately, Chambers addresses these bonds in a scattershot way that undercuts their believability. The same holds for Sasha’s fish-out-of-water experiences in Becky’s affluent environs, which inspire feelings of displacement, but have precious little to do with the mystery at hand. Like so much of the series, these elements are window dressing, thrown into the mix in the vain hope that they’ll lend the action some heft.
New-age cultists (led by Lili Taylor), drug-fueled hallucinations, mouse mutilation and a crazy old homeless lady—the last of which factors into the show’s most inane bombshell—help keep the material overstuffed, and capable of wasting entire episodes casting suspicion on individuals who clearly had nothing to do with Becky’s passing. Once again in horror territory after last year’s Lars von Trier thriller The House that Jack Built, Thurman acts hyper-skittish and tormented, while Goldwyn behaves cheerily shifty (he’s a New Age true-believer). Since both are meant to be possible bad guys, neither is allowed a persuasive moment of sorrow, thereby negating any engagement with their plight. Instead, their primary task is to maintain the story’s hysterical tone.
Newcomer Rose doesn’t fare any better; with a sullen look almost permanently affixed to her face, her Sasha is a cipher who begins with little agency, and winds up with even less once Becky makes her presence actively felt. In Rose’s defense, though, Chambers doesn’t know how to make anyone the least bit interesting—its high schoolers are all familiar types (The clingy weirdo! The bitchy rich girl! The loyal techie!), and its adults are either well-meaning caregivers or devious monsters hiding their evil behind welcoming smiles. Consequently, none of them make any impact—save for Elliott, whose constant habit of calling his mom “Nancy” is initially grating, and then downright insufferable.
Aside from the rare inspired image (the best: mice bursting forth from a chest cavity), Chambers botches its gruesomeness and suspense, so busy is it concentrating on superfluous things like Sasha BFF Yvonne’s (Kyanna Simone Simpson) dementia-addled mom and Frank’s conflict with his father, whose Native American spirituality is used to decorate the show’s hackneyed portrait of ghosts being unable to rest until they can right a grievous wrong. Most will feel as if they’ve already seen Chambers before. Those new to such substandard beyond-the-grave stuff, on the other hand, will wish they’d never seen it in the first place.