Chamber theatre is a style of theatrical production in which there is typically little to no set (and any set pieces are moved by performers as part of the show), and the emphasis is on the text and character development rather than on theatrics and special effects. One of the best known examples is the chamber drama 12 Angry Men, in which all of the action occurs within a single room where jurors deliberate over a man’s fate. Naturally, this format evolved into film, where small-scale, low-budget films emphasized dialogue and character dynamics — usually, tension and conflict—over big and showy cinema.
Small-scale and low-budget? Sounds perfect for horror filmmakers! I jest, of course… there are some high-budget chamber horror films, as I’ll discuss below. Yet the chamber style empowers the horror genre to tap into its philosophical roots: what does it mean to be human? what does it mean to be good … or evil?
I generally avoided spoilers, but the following essay does contain spoilers for Alien.
The Devil Among Us
A particular subgenre of horror films revolves around entrapment. Although this is a major theme of chamber horror films, as I’ll discuss, there’s a particular horror that derives from the premise of being trapped—especially if you don’t know the people you’re trapped with.
Easy to dismiss as a torture porn flick, Cube has philosophical depth, as characters debate ethics and solve puzzles to escape the Cube, a massive torture chamber comprising hundreds of cube-shaped rooms. The characters realize that the unusual set of people trapped in the Cube were chosen for their respective qualities — both good and bad. This was clever screenwriting that achieved a “slice of humanity” (pun intended) dynamic that allowed for maximum tension and conflict. Ultimately, the perils of the Cube pale in comparison to the darkness that lies within human hearts.
A lesser-known film produced by M. Night Shyamalan, who also wrote the story for it, Devil isn’t a true chamber film as…