Dark Chamber (V)

Known as UNDER SURVEILLANCE when it played at the Long Island Film Festival, writer/director Dave Campfield’s feature film debut has been re-titled DARK CHAMBER for its DVD release from the nefarious Shock-O-Rama. Although it’s competently directed, acted, and surprisingly coherent, Campfield’s film is almost completely undone by its heavy-handed dialogue and irrational plotting.

Justin, our Bible-loving hero, moves in with his dad while preparing for The Police Officers’ Exam. His dad is a shady police officer “tracking” a murderous cult known as the Black Circle, a cloaked and masked group of Satan-worshippers who like to desecrate graveyards and commit the occasional murder, nothing that’s going to get them on the front page of the Lucifer Lovers’ Tribune-Bugle, but still worth investigating. Once he’s moved back in with his dad, Justin hooks up with Scott, a former friend, who introduces him to Rick (Dave Campfield, his own self), the roommate who makes a skeevy living selling single cans of beer to minors.

Justin tries to pick up on a mysterious redhead hanging around his dad’s place. She obviously digs him and begins a super-committed stalking regimen, but late one night, after being awakened by a piercing scream, Justin discovers her dead body on the front lawn, wrapped in garbage bags. As he’s crouched over the body, he’s viciously attacked by some vigilant members of The Black Circle who choke him out with a Hefty bag. He awakens hours later in a Tuff Shed, disoriented, and trudges home.

Justin fills his dad in on the ominous scream, dead redhead, cult attack, etc. He postulates that the killer must live somewhere in the building, but his dad is skeptical, citing his magical cop ability to sense criminals within an 8 kilometer radius. He turns to Rick and Scott with his tale, and Rick develops an elaborate plan, complete with a chalkboard diagram: they’ll place a few hidden cameras—one in the wall of each apartment—and monitor the tenants. By studying the tenants’ behavior they’ll be able to deduce which one is the killer. So the guys install their surveillance equipment and then spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out the mystery of who killed the goofy-looking redhead.

And this is where the movie completely falls apart. It’s ludicrous to believe that these three guys will set up thousands of dollars worth of monitoring equipment simply based on a single scream possibly heard in the middle of the night. The scream could have come from outside, the killer could be anybody in town, but still, the guys are committed to staking out this one single building for practically the entire film. Talk about following your vague, straight-to-DVD instincts. And if there are only supposed to be 4 hidden cameras, why does each “surveillance scene” feature more camera angles than a Michael Bay movie? In any case, the majority of the film’s running time is thusly devoted to several lengthy black-and-white scenes featuring tenants involved in the mundane activities of everyday life while the three voyeurs crouch in a red van and watch the action on a series of monitors.

Meanwhile, Justin’s dad continues his inept investigation into the cult murders, employing some dubious interrogation techniques (“What’s the matter, kid? Your daddy beat you all your life so you gotta wear a mask to feel tough?”), and (SPOILER ALERT) overplays his hand early by warning Justin to stay out of a locked basement room (“That’s where I keep my files.”). Essentially, DARK CHAMBER is a boring-ass crime drama disguised as a horror film. The Black Circle, seemingly the horror centerpiece, is relegated to thrice-per-hour cameos, and the film features virtually no gore whatsoever (apart from a brief scene featuring a cult member carving a pentagram into a screaming dude’s chest). It’s simply not scary at all, ultimately coming across like a mixture of an ABC Afterschool Special and William Baldwin’s SLIVER.

Official Score