What the Heart Wants
“Chambers” on Netflix
Shot right here in Albuquerque (the dustier, dirtier parts, anyway) but set in Arizona, Netflix’s supernatural horror-drama “Chambers” shows up riding the crest of its parent company’s recent acquisition of ABQ Studios. That means, of course, that New Mexico viewers are about to see a lot more local sights in their televisual future.
“Chambers” centers on Native American high schooler Sasha Yazzie (earthy, naturalistic newbie Sivan Alyra Rose). She lives in the medium-small Four Corners town of Cottonwood with her uncle, Big Frank (Marcus LaVoi), who owns a low-rent aquarium store (actually Don’s Paperback Book Exchange on San Mateo). While attempting to lose her virginity to her track-running boyfriend (Griffin Powell-Arcand), Sasha suffers a freak, near-fatal heart attack. Several months later, she returns to school with a brand new donor heart beating behind the massive scar on her ribcage.
One day, out of the blue, the parents of the dead teenager who passed her young heart on to Sasha show up. Reluctantly, Sasha agrees to have dinner at their house. Turns out Ben and Nancy Lefevre (Tony Goldwyn and Uma Thurman, the show’s big-name costars) are a couple of rich New Agers who live in posh nearby Crystal Valley (think Sedona, Ariz.). Before the awkward night is over, they’ve offered Sasha a scholarship to their daughter’s upscale high school. (Evidently Sasha’s too young to pick up on the strong Rosemary’s Baby vibe mom and dad are giving off.)
Under the prodding of her loving but broke uncle, Sasha agrees to wake up at 5am every morning and take a bus to snobby Crystal Valley High (complete with fencing clubs, nap rooms and racist mascot). Soon she’s enmeshed in the life of poor, dead Becky Lefevre (Lilliya Scarlett Reid). But the regular exposure to Becky’s friends and family only leave her with more questions. How did Becky actually die? Why is Sasha getting strange visions of Becky’s old life in Crystal Valley? And why is she suddenly such a whiz at statistics—just like Becky? Naturally Sasha is forced to do the Nancy Drew thing to figure out what all the shady-acting folks around her are hiding about Becky’s life and untimely death.
As the show goes on, Sasha finds herself increasingly driven by impulses she can’t understand or control. As you’ve no doubt already surmised, the show is basically the latest in a long line of “donated body parts possess an innocent victim” films (Hands of a Stranger, The Hand, Body Parts, The Eye, Idle Hands). The characters and setting at least give it a unique vibe.
Though it bills itself as a horror series, “Chambers” is more of a dark, moody, slow-moving mystery. It’s loaded down with red herrings and weighty portents (ominous dust storms, freakishly prescient homeless people, gory dreams, Morrissey songs). If only the show kept a better pace. After meandering around for most of its run time and growing increasingly “Twin Peaks”-weird about its central mystery, “Chambers” gets down and dirty and super mystical in its final eps. The twists are enough to wake you up, but leave most of the show’s middle section feeling like filler. Although it has its moments of creepy anticipation, visual verve and dramatic weight, “Chambers” (to say nothing of the second season threatened in the finale) would probably have worked better as a one-off feature film.