Robert Machoian is back with another hard hitting look at male egos and the way so many seek to define manliness. After 2020’s griping The Killing of Two Lovers it was easy to see that Machoian is the next big talent to watch. With The Integrity of Jospeh Chambers, Machoian reunites with Clayne Crawford (who also executive produces the film under his company Back 40 Pictures) giving him a terrific almost one man show that is as emotional as it is unnerving.
Joseph Chambers (Clayne Crawford) finds himself waking up before the sun to give himself a clean shave but decides to keep the mustache. In a sort of stranger than fiction moment, this emphasis on keeping his mustache already speaks volumes to the thousands of men who have created a TikTok trend growing out their mustaches in a homage to the new Top Gun: Maverick as well as creating their own form of manliness. It couldn’t be more perfect timing if Machoian planned it that way (he didn’t). But Joseph not only keeps his mustache as he wakes up his sleeping wife Tess (Jordana Brewster) he is also preparing to head off for a hunt. Nothing out of the ordinary until it quickly becomes apparent that the hunting life is not anything Joseph is familiar with. No he and his family have moved back to Tess’s hometown of backwoods Alabama and Joseph knows this is where he must learn to be more assertive and protect his family. He claims that the world is falling apart outside and the worst can still come. The script (also written by Machoian) never defines a specific situation nor does he define a moment in time. A smart choice in these dividing times, it allows the audience to create their own situation but clearly reminds us that yea the world really isn’t doing so great. Joseph however sees going hunting as a way to assert his ability as a man and protector of his family. The film for all its dark and ominous setup gets some laughs in early on. Joseph is less dressed for a day of hunting and more prepared for an L.L. Bean photoshoot. With his khaki pants and red vest, nothing speaks “I’ve done this before”. Crawford who played a more intuitive version of the classic woodsman in “Killing of Two Lovers” is having a lot of fun here playing against type. As Joseph borrows both a gun and pickup (he drives a “jerk car” aka a BMW) the audience is already terrified for Joe. He has a long day ahead of him and he doesn’t know a damn thing.
The film at only 96 minutes takes its time building suspense but it always remains engaging. Even as Joe first gets out to the woods your nerves have a reached a high point. As he stumbles around trying to load his gun as well as swinging the gun around and looking down the barrel you can’t help but watch through your finger tips as you expect Joe to get injured any second. For all the most recent horror movies that have made a name for themselves none even come close to the nerve wracking tension this film creates. No monsters or elevated horror needed. Thankfully for all the bumbling first time mistakes Joe makes or could make the film never loses sight of the notion that he and most men of the world continue to feel that they most be a protector and provider. This is far from a negative thing, but their inability to know their limits will be their undoing. And if that’s not enough throw in an impeccable sound design and mixing from Peter Albrechtsen (who also worked on “Killing”) and the entire foley team. Very few films today truly utilize every bit of the sound team, but “Joseph Chambers” is a masterclass in sound tension. Throughout the film there is mixed in noises of both the woods/nature life as well as the noises that are playing in Joe’s psyche. It is an element that only heightens as his situation gets more dire.
To say who or what Joe encounters during his outing would not be fair, but it’s almost as clear as the Alabama sky that things will not go down a perfect path. This is a film built on the notion that even when things go from bad to worse Joe as a man must find a solution. It can’t be as simple as bringing his problems home. Not only could it destroy his family, but he would have proven that he is not up to standards with what he believes a man can and should be in this terrifying world. Crawford as a performer delivers another stellar reminder that he is one of the best to be watching right now. Someone with an authenticity to each role (it helps that Crawford shot this in his own town during the height of the pandemic). Crawford’s performance brings back the old school days of filmmaking that involved the making of these more midwestern films. Many may think back on them as more “manly roles” but in fact Crawford is more in tune with the performances of say Richard Dreyfuss where both play characters that go above and beyond to prove themselves but often leave a trail of defeat for their loved ones to follow. It’s another remarkable performance and this bond built with Machoian is one you want to see continue. The Integrity of Joseph Chambers may not entice you to go hunting anytime soon (ironically it may make you grow out your mustache) but it definitely is holding up a mirror to so many today. Fearing the world outside has become all too common and protection of the ones we love seems like the right move, however before one chooses to fight back it must be checked to make sure it is not being done for self fulfilled reasons. Once we do it for the right purpose then we can venture out into the woods.
THE INTEGRITY OF JOSEPH CHAMBERS PREMIERED AT THE 2022 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. IT IS CURRENTLY SEEKING U.S. DISTRIBUTION