“Chambers,” Netflix’s new horror series, doesn’t have much going for it — it’s a grody, nasty piece of work, a story that would at least be endurable if it were the under-ninety-minute movie it seems to want to be. But it does boast the casting of both Tony Goldwyn (in his first post-”Scandal” role) and Uma Thurman, two stars that might not have signed on to a version of this story that didn’t have the patina of prestige that comes with an overlong season on streaming. Too bad for them: They’re stranded in a story that goes nowhere fast, reliant on cheap scares with nothing behind them.
The story is frustrating in part because it seems to be saying something at its outset. Sasha (Sivan Alyra Rose) is a pleasantly typical American girl — dutiful but free-spirited in predictable proportion — before she suffers cardiac arrest and receives a transplanted heart, taken from the body of a recently deceased girl her age. Suddenly, she’s brought into a relationship with the departed’s parents (Goldwyn and Thurman), New Age types who have every material advantage she lacks, and seek to share them. Sasha ends up bringing the late Becky’s heart with her to Becky’s private school (where Thurman and Goldwyn’s bereaved parents pay her tuition), spending time with her family, even driving her car, all while malign aspects of Becky’s personality seem to begin taking her over.
There’s a germ of an idea there, about the ways in which both privilege and trauma have the power to warp reality and make a person literally become someone else. And it doesn’t even hurt the show’s case that to become Becky is to become a violent psychopath — that decision actually evinces a sense of freewheeling fun that the lugubrious, wearyingly slow “Chambers” otherwise lacks. (Becky’s takeover happens by inches, and the viewer has figured out what’s going on ages before Sasha has.) But the show never capitalizes on those glancing promises of insight and of creepy glee. The show plods at the leaden pace of “Thirteen Reasons Why” when it should be sprinting. It is, after all, the story of a girl whose personality is taken over by the spirit within her transplanted organ. If it’s not going to be a successfully executed parable or giddily insane, why are we here?
Which recalls Goldwyn and Thurman — neither of them seem clear on why they’re here, either. Both do their best with hazily written material: Thurman, especially, shines in scenes of grief. (I was reminded, there again, of “Thirteen Reasons Why,” on which the grieving parents provided meaningful emotional heft to an otherwise airless story. Much like “Thirteen Reasons Why,” too, I suspect “Chambers” will be found by droves of teens.) But because the show’s suspense depends in part on Becky’s parents remaining obscure in their motives, either generous or monstrous, they’re given only the most basic notes of grief to play, and their performances don’t develop, at least not in the four episodes initially given to critics. Four episodes, too, will likely be enough time for viewers who’ve aged out of the demographic to decide their hearts aren’t with “Chambers.”
“Chambers.” Netflix. April 26. Ten episodes (four screened for review.)
Cast: Uma Thurman, Tony Goldwyn, Sivan Alyra Rose, Lilliya Reid, Nicholas Galitzine, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Lilli Kay, Sarah Mezzanotte, Griffin Powell-Arcand
Executive Producers: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Leah Rachel, Winnie Kemp, Wolfgang Hammer, Jennifer Yale, and Stephen Gaghan