Caught Between Light & Dark
Out of all the Harry Potter films, the Chamber of Secrets is the one that feels the most tonally inconsistent and inoffensively forgettable. While the first film did well to flirt that line between lighthearted fun and darker elements, Chamber of Secrets fails to capture that same balance, instead feeling awkwardly contrived in places whilst reducing Ron to comic relief in places.
Returning for a second year, the plot this time around sees Harry faced with challenges right from the start, as house elf Dobby arrives at the worst possible time and warns Harry against returning to Hogwarts; the Chamber of Secrets has been opened but by who remains a secret. As the school year progresses, so too does the number of petrified students cropping up in the hallways, prompting our trio to begin piecing together exactly what’s happening at Hogwarts this year. All of this follows a similar format to the first film, right up to the final reveal at the end and an inevitable climactic showdown.
The Chamber Of Secrets feels tonally awkward at times though, stumbling between dark reveals and light horror elements across to slapstick humour and drawn out jokes that don’t always work. Between Gilderoy Lockhart’s buffoonish antics and Ron’s wimpy outbursts in the face of danger, Chamber of Secrets feels like a film that so desperately wants to revel in its dark themes but feels consciously obliged to continue catering for younger kids. The result is a weird inconsistency that’s overshadowed by Prisoner Of Azkaban which transitions the series much more smoothly into this territory.
Of course, the actors do the best they can with the material given and once again the chemistry between the cast is fantastic throughout. Snape’s slightly more reserved performance this time is contrasted nicely by Filch who gets some lovely one-liners here that flirt that line between comedy and drama perfectly. Some of the newcomers, including Gilderoy Lockhart and Draco’s deliciously evil Father Lucius, do well here and certainly bring their book counterparts to life in the best possible way.
Stylistically, the film does okay and once again John Williams’ magical score does well to keep things very much in the realm of fantastical wonder throughout the plot. Some of the imaginative sets, including the Weasley’s house and the depths of the Forbidden Forest, do well to keep things interesting but the film mostly utilizes the same areas around Hogwarts found in the first film.
Overall Chamber Of Secrets does well to keep things interesting and enjoyable, even if it is one of the weaker Harry Potter films in the franchise. All these years later it still manages to inject a decent sense of wonder and the plot is certainly well-paced but a lot of the tonal issues stem from an imbalance between slapstick humour and darker drama that doesn’t always mesh well here. Despite all that, Chamber Of Secrets isn’t a bad film but it’s not a particularly memorable or outstanding one either. It’s simply a vessel for the Harry Potter franchise to move into darker territory which is nailed far more effectively in some of the later films.