Updated: Jun 10
Celebrating its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in the U.S. Narrative Competition, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is a deeply arresting character piece. With a deeply anxiety-inducing dilemma that strips its titular character down to his very core, this film from writer/director Robert Machoian is a mesmerizing nightmare come to life. Set throughout the stark backdrop of a numbing, isolated forest, Joseph Chambers is tested in a way which will make audiences pray they never have to deal with. The opening shot of this film is akin to a full-on creature feature, and while this is more of a thrilling atmospheric drama, your heart will certainly be racing as if it’s a full-fledged horror film. The way Machoian is able to play with expectations in this is utterly brilliant, and a large part is most certainly due to the lead performance.
Once again collaborating with Machoian is Clayne Crawford, star of the film The Killing of Two Lovers, which premiered at Sundance in 2020. As Joseph Chambers, the film hinges completely on Crawford’s ability to bare his soul to the viewer. As his wife Tess comically begs him to crawl back into bed, Chambers shows off his stubborn side. Mind you, from the very moment we are introduced to Chambers, Crawford plays him as a bit of a goofball. It’s never too overt, but it’s very clear that Chambers is just a run-of-the-mill guy: He has two children alongside his loving wife in a beautiful home. He drives a BMW thanks to his great work selling insurance. He cracks plenty of jokes to his friends and family. Yet as Tess and him argue over why he is so adamant on going out hunting alone in the first place, it’s this other side of Chambers that sets the stage for all that’s to follow. With a dash of peer pressure from “wanting to hang out with the boys” and preparing for whatever impending apocalypse Tess’s father also harped on, Chambers is on a singular mission: to prove he can provide for his family in case of an emergency. It would appear the ironic “necessity” for preparedness being foiled by his complete failure of preparation has gone right over his head in lieu of proving himself.
So off Chambers goes into the woods alone, borrowing his friend’s truck and rifle along the way. Barely able to load his weapon and breaking cardinal rules of proper hunting etiquette, Crawford’s brilliance in bringing this character to life lies in his subtleties; He is constantly fidgeting or picking up and placing items down repeatedly simply due to being unsure of himself. The first 20 minutes of this film are basically fate screaming at Chambers to stay home with his family. Yet Chambers is more concerned with winning the world series in the woods. In a fascinatingly clever stylistic move, Machoian breaks up the eerie silence of the woods with whispers, cheers, and baseball stadium ambience to get into the psyche of Chambers. So as Crawford plays up this affable and almost comically inept behavior, the scary truth begins settling in: Chambers is completely and utterly out of his comfort zone whether he cares to admit or not.
The serene solitude Chambers has been surrounded by very quickly falls apart as he makes a critical mistake. This error is enhanced by the nightmarish score, which seems to be exclusively made up of off-kilter string players with the sole mission of unsettling the audience; It’s just another element of this film that comes together cohesively for a nail-biting drama. As soon as Chambers realizes how terribly wrong his day has gone, Crawford strips this character down to nothing. In one long take, Crawford is somehow able to channel the 7 stages of grief interchangeably. It’s a mesmerizing performance that builds up not only the second half of this film, but poses a question to the audience: what exactly would you do in Chambers’ situation?
As The Integrity of Joseph Chambers comes to a head, both literally and internally, Machoian just pulls off dazzling move after move almost effortlessly. It’s a compelling film with a visceral hook, one which will surely leave its viewers knuckles taut with panic. A vivid portrait of the excuses we may tell ourselves to justify our actions, Crawford is more than effective at using Chambers as a vessel for integrity and moral values. Those around us dictate wholeheartedly who we are as people, and when those limits are tested through films like these, it begins not only an entertaining dialogue, but a thrilling one.
The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is celebrating its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Tickets for screenings and more information on the film can be found right here.