New Netflix Thriller Chambers Highlights Native Identities

 Chambers, an innovative new Netflix horror series, premiered last month and has received mixed reviews amidst a growing genre of horror-themed TV shows. The storyline follows the main character Sasha, a Native teenager living in Arizona who receives a heart transplant from a girl named Becky (Lillya Scarlett Reid). After Sasha connects with Becky’s parents, mysterious and dangerous events begin to unfold surrounding Becky’s death, and Sasha attempts to uncover what really happened to Becky. The show features breakout star Sivan Alyra Rose, supported by numerous veteran actors including Uma Thurman and Tony Goldwyn.

Chambers has been criticized for being too slow and incorporating too many elements of classic horror and thriller into one TV show. However, what the show lacks in pace, it makes up for in calculated plot themes, tenuous and valuable side plots, and superb acting. The subtle complexities might be easy to miss, but if viewers really commit to delving into the story, Chambers has much more to offer than a simple horror storyline.

The series has received widespread praise for the diversity of both the cast and characters, featuring several Indigenous and Black actors. Furthermore, Chambers successfully uses experienced actors — notably Thurman and Goldwyn — to boost viewership and exposure for the new and less well-known stars. 

Most importantly, Chambers is the first Netflix show to star an Indigenous woman, and it attempts to respectfully portray the problems and complexities that Indigenous communities face on a daily basis. It also incorporates several scenes with a spoken Native language and historical anecdotes — one of the first shows to do so in popular culture.

The series itself is anything but your typical horror series, which is one of its greatest strengths. It portrays several intricate side plots that are both entertaining and valuable. Sasha’s relationship with her boyfriend TJ (Griffin Powell-Areand) offers a glimpse into the complexities of maintaining stable relationships in the midst of tragedy and familial disapproval. Sasha’s guardian Uncle “Big” Frank Yazzie (Marcus CaVoi) makes a decision to sell a stolen car in order to obtain vital medication for Sasha, portraying the difficulties of poverty and the health care system, especially within Indigenous communities. Sasha’s best friend Yvonne (Kyanna Simone Simpson) demonstrates the struggles of teen responsibility, as she is depicted taking care of her dementia-stricken mother while attempting to excel at school and prepare for her future career. While none of these sub-plots necessarily further the main plot-line, they are all thought-provoking and essential for the character development throughout the show. 

Many viewers have criticized the show for combining too many elements and trying to fit into too many categorical genres. There are elements of the supernatural, cult activity, demonic activity, slasher gore, hallucinations, seances, aura-reading, and murder mystery throughout the entirety of the show. 

However, the compilation of these themes adds to the show’s mystique. These different elements will be easily recognizable to horror film veterans, leaving viewers unsure of the show’s ultimate direction. Will the roots of Sasha’s behaviors and experiences be due to paranormal activity or demonic possession? Or might it stem from the cult activity that her family inadvertently takes part in? These uncertainties keep viewers guessing in a way that the average horror flick does not.

Finally, Chambers strings together numerous different themes, which might be easy to miss if audience members are watching just for a simple thrill. One of the most important is the idea of consent. For example, the first episode actually begins with Sasha and her boyfriend TJ consensually deciding to lose their virginity together. However, throughout the rest of the show, decisions are frequently made without the consent of other characters. Becky’s heart is given to science by her parents. Sasha’s uncle signs papers for her heart transplant. Becky’s brother is checked into rehab despite his explicit unwillingness to do so. Becky herself is forced by her father to participate in cult activity. Every single one of these nonconsensual actions ultimately leads to a turning point and downfall of characters in the show — crucial moments that could have easily been avoided if a character had been able to give consent in the first place. 

Another overarching theme is the name of the show itself — Chambers. While the title is obviously a nod to the chambers of the human heart, it is also a reference to the chambers that various characters are both literally and metaphorically stuck in. At the end of the first season, Sasha is essentially imprisoned in a chamber cell in Becky’s old house, which is where the climax of the first season occurs. Furthermore, by the end of the show, it seems that Sasha herself has split into chambers: a chamber of Sasha and a chamber of Becky. 

Aside from Sasha, it seems that each character is stuck in a chamber from which they cannot escape. Becky’s mother is stuck in grief, while her father is stuck in the cult. Yvonne’s home life is a chamber that keeps her from her academic and social responsibilities. Becky’s brother is stuck in the chamber of addiction, and Uncle Frank is imprisoned by the chamber of poverty despite his best efforts. While some viewers have criticized these as melodramatic, they add to the overall themes of the show and contribute to the show’s complexity. 

Overall, Chambers offers a unique and fresh take on the horror genre. Not only does the show highlight-up-and coming actors of color, but it also incorporates difficult themes and narratives — many of which have yet to be offered by any other show. Further, the criticisms that the show faces are often at the price of what makes these shows truly unique — intricate side plots, hard-hitting themes, and a plethora of traditional horror elements that keep viewers on their toes. Chambers is not your typical horror show — and excels because of that.