Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Netflix’s “Chambers” feels like the offspring of their hit shows “13 Reasons Why” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” It has the young adult mystery of the former and the creepy supernatural vibe of the latter. I suppose the teen target audience may be more patient with it than I was, but I bailed after four very long hours in which I took a variation on the note “This should have just been a movie” about a dozen times. The abundance of programming on Netflix and other streaming services has clearly a reached a point when pitches that could have made solid 100-minute movies are being stretched out to entire TV seasons. Not only does this allow you to see the flaws in something derivative like “Chambers” but it kills the sense of atmosphere and pacing that a show like this needs to survive. There’s nothing less scary than utter boredom.
Sasha (Sivan Alyra Rose) has a heart attack on the stormy night that she’s losing her virginity. She awakens to find that she has someone else’s ticker in her chest, which brings her into the life of the girl who died to keep Sasha alive. Not only does she meet the late Becky’s parents (Tony Goldwyn and Uma Thurman), but she increasingly seems to be taking her place, moving into Becky’s spot at a private school, and hanging with her friends and brother. Of course, it’s not long before Sasha seems to be “channeling” Becky, tying a knot she didn’t know how to tie and hearing the Stone Roses song that Becky listened to in her head. She not only starts to convince herself that she is at least partially possessed by Becky, but that there’s something suspicious about her death.
There’s a lot to unpack here. When Sasha first gets to her new private school, the camera lingers over a pretty offensive use of Native American imagery for a school pride banner, and one hopes that “Chambers” is going to become a commentary on appropriation. After all, Sasha literally takes someone else’s heart and then sort of becomes her. It’s fertile ground for a look at privilege and the impact of environment on young people. Is Sasha becoming more like Becky because of something supernatural/biological or because she’s driving around in her car and attending her fancy school?
Sadly, “Chambers” isn’t smart enough to dig into the material in an interesting way. It’s too concerned with jump scares and long scenes about what might have happened to Becky. The success of a show like this comes in how it balances character development with meting out new twists to the narrative – look to “Hill House” for how to do that perfectly. The pacing is off here in every single episode. Sasha isn’t an interesting character and poor Uma Thurman seems like she signed up for a much more interesting show about grief. She’s doing a lot with very little. And it would have been a fascinating supporting turn in the movie that “Chambers” should have been, one that pumps instead of suffering from the television version of low blood pressure.
Four episodes screened for review
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