I’m a sucker for a good supernatural TV series, and after Netflix dropped the surprisingly great The Haunting of Hill House at the end of 2018, I was very much looking forward to this new 10-part series starring the always fantastic Uma Thurman. But is Chambers any good? Well actually, yes it is.
Unlike Hill House, this story is a slow burner—just how I like them. I want to really get to know my characters. And while there is no news of a second series in production yet, the story certainly isn’t over at the end of Season 1, so I am hopeful that it will be renewed for at least another season. Creator Leah Rachel has not given any details as to whether this is happening yet. She would have to write it first, so it could be a while.
The lead role of the show is played by newcomer (to acting at least, she is a runway model and exhibited artist) Sivan Alyra Rose. She plays the sassy Sasha Yazzie, a 17-year-old part-Navajo high school student. She lives with her Uncle Frank (Marcus LaVoi) and has done so since the age of 2 when her mother passed. Uncle Frank owns an exotic fish store and Sasha works there part-time.
She has a steady boyfriend, TJ Locklear (Griffin Powell-Arcand), also of Navajo descent. The couple decide it is time for them to take things a step further in their relationship and arrange a date for their first time. It just so happens TJ has keys to a bed store, and he sets the tone for a romantic evening by lighting a candle and displaying a bouquet of what I’d guess were herbs for protection or similar. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst at this point. Just as they are getting into the throes of passion, Sasha has a devastating heart attack.
A few months later, Sasha is released from the hospital. She received an emergency heart transplant from a rich white girl the same age as her, Becky Lefevre (Lilliya Reid), who died on the same night Sasha had her heart attack. Becky’s father, Ben Lefevre (Tony Goldwyn) turns up at Frank’s fish store, hoping to meet the girl who has his daughter’s heart. Which in itself is kinda creepy, but kinda understandable. Then things do start to get genuinely creepy.
While Becky is definitely dead, her heart still very much belongs to her, as if she just has a new body to wear. Sasha begins remembering things Becky did and saw. Haunted by Becky’s death, Sasha starts to investigate what really happened to her before she died, becoming more involved with Becky’s life and more estranged from her own.
Whilst Chambers initially feels like quite an original idea, the whole “possessed body part” theme has been kicking around for years, like in the ’80s film Body Parts, and also the Chinese horror film The Eye. Yet Chambers does manage to somehow stand apart, despite it taking a little while to get going, by undeniably building characters and atmosphere as the story slowly pulls you in.
Sasha and Frank travel to the Lefevre’s lavish yet minimal house in the very wealthy suburb of Crystal Valley so that they can meet Becky’s mother, Nancy (Uma Thurman) and her brother Elliott (Nicholas Galitzine). Nancy clearly isn’t coping as well as Ben is since the death of their daughter, and Elliott is quite aloof about it all, but the track marks on his arms tell a different story. His parents seem to be annoyed at his very existence. Already you can tell there is something really not quite right about this family. Ben’s grief seems somewhat fanatical, and that is only the start. They want to be a part of the life of the girl their daughter saved by offering her a scholarship to Becky’s expensive private school, where every student is assigned a life coach and a laptop.
Until recently, people of colour in horror have been associated with a monstrous, vengeful, often magical ‘Other’ that threatens white purity. But lately, creators such as Jordan Peele have flipped those tropes. In Get Out, affluent white people are the sinister power that seeks to possess, corrupt, and control black people by stealing their bodies and maybe even their souls as a metaphor for slavery and exploitation. Chambers isn’t about slavery, it’s about naturalisation. Sasha is worried that her new heart is turning her into a white person. She feels like she is losing her sense of self, becoming something alien to her. The scholarship should give her the freedom to become whatever she puts her mind to. Instead, it entraps her. It feels like a direct reference to the history of American Indian residential schools, tasked with “killing the Indian to save the man”.
While we are used to supernatural occurrences happening on Native American burial grounds in horror, that’s not the case in Chambers. All the spirituality centres on a New Age religious movement called the Annex, which begins to look more and more like a cult as the series goes on. It starts off being all about crystals, diets, therapy and burning all your deceased’s precious belongings so that they can have them in the afterlife. After all, death is so materialistic these days. As we delve deeper into the story though, it becomes clear that the true horror is happening in white suburbia, while the indigenous folk are the ones rejecting tradition and superstition in favour of rationality.
While Chambers may not keep you on the edge of your seat, I have enjoyed the slow pace, getting to know, and even care, about the characters. Sasha isn’t always likeable but you still champion her honesty and curiosity. The relationship with her best friend Yvonne (Kyanna Simone Simpson) is natural and funny. Sasha’s romance with TJ is very sweet, and his attitude towards her is unpredictably cool and modern. None of the characters are so over the top that they don’t seem believable—even for a show about the paranormal. Lili Taylor is superb as always, as Ruth Pezim, a friend of the Lefevre family. You can never really tell if she’s going to save the day or if she’s the most unhinged of the lot.
At times the cinematography is just stunning. Shots of TJ riding his skateboard against the sunset and bright street lamps, and dust and electric storms raging across the desert, really give you a feel of the heat and tension rising in the air. The scares aren’t really jumpy, they are more subtle than that. The kind that make you want to hide behind your fingers at times. The music is raw, and while maybe not really fitting the setting at times, it still feels so right. The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Chromatics, Liv Dawson, Hijokaidan and The Everly Brothers all feature.
All 10 episodes of Chambers are available to stream on Netflix right now, and as long as you are patient, you will be rewarded with some pretty great TV.