Horror and teen drama have gone hand-in-hand for decades. Throw in some meditations on grief and mortality, a bit of commentary on class and privilege, and a starry cast that includes Uma Thurman and Tony Goldwyn in his first post-Scandal role, and you should have the recipe for Netflix’s next surefire hit. Unfortunately, the streaming network’s new haunted heart transplant horror series Chambers has all the right pieces, but never quite figures out what to do with them, stretching the material impossibly thin and firing off a scattershot of grisly imagery and gruesome deeds that tangle with
The series follows 17-year-old Sasha Yazzie (Sivan Alyra Rose), who suffers a freak heart attack on the night she plans to lose her virginity to her doting boyfriend (Griffen Powell-Arcand). Saved by a heart transplant from another teenager, Becky LeFevre (Lilliya Scarlett Reid), who died the same night, Sasha soon receives an invitation from Becky’s parents and develops a strange bond with the grieving family unit — Becky’s problem child twin, Elliot (Nicholas Galitzine), and their parents, Ben (Tony Goldwyn) and Nancy (Uma Thurman). Sasha is an orphan, struggling to make ends meet with help of her devoted guardian Big Frank (Marcus LaVoi), so she’s understandably gobsmacked and enticed by the world of the LeFevres; an attractive, affluent family with New Age pretensions, who offer her a shot at a new life.
Drawn to the young woman who now holds their daughter’s heart, the LeFevres offer Sasha a full-ride scholarship to Becky’s private school and even give the teen their late daughter’s fancy car. But the tragic tilt towards a dream life soon takes on a terrifying dynamic when Becky’s traits start to take over Sasha’s. From consciousness to physicality, Sasha spirals through a horrific identity crisis as Becky’s heart and her family’s influence essentially start to gentrify Sasha’s life from the inside out. It starts small — Sasha can suddenly tie a perfect sailing knot despite never having stepped on a boat — but quickly devolves into a full-on nightmare when Sasha starts seeing terrifying visions and developing newfound violent traits that point to dark secrets Becky took to her grave.
It’s a fascinating concept that offers room to explore class and race while addressing how privilege can warp perspective and how grief can transform you into a new person you barely recognize. But ultimately, Chambers doesn’t have nearly enough to say about those ideas to justify the 10-hour series runtime and winds up rehashing the same scares and manufacturing drama through foolish character choices. A particularly egregious episode sees Sasha running ’round town accusing everyone under the sun of murdering Becky on little more than a hunch and mysterious visions, resulting in sequence after sequence of nearly identical confrontations.
Across the board, the cast gives the material their all, even when the script doesn’t support them in turn. Thurman gives Nancy a palpable, shattering grief to her maternal figure, doing some of her best work in years, but Nancy’s behavior can be confounding (the same can be said for most of the characters) and that unsteady scripting tugs at the threads of the performances holding the whole thing together. Goldwyn is charming and mysterious but given little opportunity to do more — except some naked yoga, which Scandal fans will no doubt enjoy. Unexpected standouts include Galitzine’s turn as Becky’s troubled brother, who emerges as one of the more compelling characters by the end of the series, and Sasha’s best friend Yvonne (Kiyanna Simone Simpson); a tech prodigy who cares for her ailing mother, and a scene-stealer that adds a much-needed snap of life to every scene she’s in.
The best of Chambers would have been better served by traditional feature film structure, or even a less traditional episodic structure (Netflix’s Ghoul did well with a tight three-episode run last year,) but as it is, the series worst elements threaten to drown out the promise of the concept and the strengths of its cast with redundant scares and painfully protracted pacing. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Chambers completely flatlines; it pulls through, barely, but it never quite finds its beat.
Chambers is now streaming on Netflix.