Following 2020’s The Killing of Two Lovers, writer and director Robert Machoian returns with another study of troubled masculinity in his latest film The Integrity of Joseph Chambers.
The film follows titular character Joseph Chambers, a salesman working in insurance who has recently moved to the wilderness of rural Alabama with his wife Tess and his two young sons. Joseph believes that he has done a good thing by moving his family away from the sins of the city where people are far more likely to be corrupted, and that the country, where everything is much more wholesome, is the best place for his family to live. The only piece of the puzzle that is missing is that Joseph has gotten it into his head that he needs to learn some survival skills and the best way to do this would be to spend the day in the woods hunting.
However, savvy wife Tess is much less keen on this plan having grown up with a father and brothers who hunted. She knows more about hunting than Joseph, but he has little interest in heeding her warnings and off to the woods he goes – unlearned, unprepared and with the loan of his friend Doug’s gun.
It is probably not hard to guess from the above that this is a disaster waiting to happen. Tess knows it and the audience knows it. The only person still hopelessly unaware is Joseph himself who swaggers through the woods playing imaginary hero with his gun. When Joseph thinks he sees a deer in the distance, his day in the woods turns into a day of horror.
Throughout the film, there is a feeling of impending doom and Machoian enhances this feeling with a sound design that keeps the audience on edge. At times, this sound design is actually uncomfortable to listen to and reflects the unease of the situation.
The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is shot really well and the woods, that will ultimately be the scene of something quite horrific, look beautiful and serene. A strange juxtaposition that speaks to the beauty of nature versus the ugliness of mankind. It is humans that so often bring horror into natural environments.
The central performance from Clayne Crawford is mesmerising, though in all fairness it needs to be as Joseph is not a particularly likeable character. Without a strong lead performance, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers would be an even more frustrating watch because the film is frustrating at times. It is very hard to watch this man who has some strange sense of what it means to be masculine, bumble around with a gun that he has no business handling and leave his wife worrying at home.
The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is another intriguing study from Machoian on toxic masculinity, but it would perhaps worked more effectively as a short rather than a feature where it does at times feel drawn out.
Drama | USA, 2022 | 15 | Blu-ray, Digital | 17th April 2023 (UK) | Lightbulb Film Distribution | Dir. Robert Machoian | Clayne Crawford, Jordana Brewster, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Michael Raymond-James