Chambers Creator Reveals The Way Cultural Appropriation Intersects With Horror

Photo: Courtesy of Ursula Coyote/Netflix.
Netflix's new teen horror series Chambers is a supernatural mystery set in the Arizona desert, where swelling dust storms and lightning strikes provide the perfect backdrop for the mysticism practiced by many of its residents. The series stars Sivan Alyra Rose as Sasha, a Native American teen whose heart transplant causes her to experience terrifying visions — and exhibit even more chilling behaviors. The heart's original owner, privileged teen Becky (Lilliya Reid), had a slew of dark secrets, all of which tie back to her parents (played by Tony Goldwyn and Uma Thurman) and their New Age organization. As Sasha becomes intertwined with Becky's hometown of Crystal Valley, she becomes desperate to remove Becky's influence over her body and mind — until it's revealed that it may not be Becky that Sasha has to worry about, but a different entity that made a home inside both young women.
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Chambers is a crazy ride, one that borrows heavily from horror of yesterday to create a fresh series about identity, marginalization, and culture appropriation. The wealthy community of Crystal Valley is juxtaposed with Sasha's own hometown, which is just outside a Native American reservation and bears little in common with the valley's modern mansions and sleek, high-tech private school.
Over the phone, Refinery29 spoke with Chambers creator Leah Rachel about her new series, and where the horror lies for her.
Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images.
Refinery29: Where did the idea for Chambers come from?
Leah Rachel: "Whenever I write anything, it has to be surrounding questions that I’m dealing with in my own life. I am culturally Jewish, and have always been searching for my belief system, and searching for answers to those unanswerable questions. There’s something very fertile between the line of horror and religion — the ideas of soul, reincarnation, what happens after we die...all things explored in Chambers. This is a show about a teenage girl looking to maintain her identity, and there’s a little bit of horror in being a teenage girl anyway — we’re just pushing into that."
The setting of Chambers is so specific. You have where Sasha grew up, which is culturally diverse and outside a Native American reservation, and your predominantly white, very privileged community of Crystal Valley. Why tell this story through these places?
"I spent a lot of time in Sedona, Arizona, which is what Crystal Valley is based on. It is crazy fertile ground to me for psychological horror. It’s a very beautiful, very terrifying place. You have the really affluent, mostly white, very very wealthy town of Sedona, and then you go an hour outside of it, and you have some of the biggest Native American reservations in the United States. Those two things are clashing up against each other. There’s subtle and not-so-subtle appropriation of Native American culture. In the show, you see Ben saging, for example [which is a Native American practice.] It’s Coachella. It’s girls running around in headdresses. We wanted to have it in the fabric of the show, without making it about that. Sasha — she has a white girl inside her. Becky is changing Sasha from the inside out. People can make of that what they want. There’s definitely a metaphor there."
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There are many moments on Chambers that echo iconic horror films, such as Rosemary's Baby. Did specific works of horror inspire you?
"I’m really drawn to surrealist horror. A lot of ‘70s horror, like Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby. Then there’s movies like Donnie Darko and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. There’s the French movie Raw, which I think is fabulous. I loved it. When you are looking at horror through a feminine lens, it’s very fertile ground, no pun intended. That was the whole thing with Nancy, played by Uma Thurman, and her phantom pregnancy. Your body turns on you and you can’t control it anymore. There’s a lot of body horror with being a woman."
Pregnancy is a big theme in Chambers. The night of Sasha's heart attack, women go into labor. Is Nancy's pregnancy supernatural?
"I want people to take from it what they will. With phantom pregnancies, they can happen when you lose a child. Your body reacts and tries to heal itself. With Nancy, it’s the body’s way of trying to soothe itself after the death of Becky. I don’t want to answer exactly what it is for the audience [and whether it is supernatural or not] but it is a very real thing."
We learn at the end of the series that Sasha is inhabited by Lilith, who, in mythology, was Adam's first wife who was banished because she refused to be subservient to him. Why choose her to inhabit Sasha's body?
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"We know Lilith as a demon because that’s been the narrative for a very long time. I’m not sure she’s a demon. I think she’s a very misunderstood mythological creature that carries with her very earned rage. It depends on how you look at her, whether you think she’s a god, or a demon. The line is very, very thin. Becky was misunderstood, Sasha is misunderstood, and Nancy is misunderstood. There’s a story of misunderstood women within Chambers. We want to set the story straight [with Lilith] too."
At the end of the season, we're not sure if what happened to Sasha is really good or bad, or who the villains of the series are. Was that intentional?
"Everyone has the potential to be a villain. No one thinks that they are a villain. Villains don’t think they are villains, and sometimes people become villains because they’re trying to do something amazing in their own way, and they make the wrong choice. Within the show we’re always trying to show each character their villain and their hero side. Some teeter towards one or the other. Ben thought what he was doing to Becky was a good thing. He thought it was a great thing. Did he use his daughter against her will and not tell her? Yes. And that’s a huge fuck up. What he did was bad, but he did not do it with bad intentions."
What do you have planned for season 2?
"There’s a story with Ben that goes back pretty far, that would for sure come out in season 2. Thematically, the second season is about a girl who has always been told by the world that she is powerless, suddenly having lots of powers. It would delve very deeply into the 'why me?' with Sasha. There would be the supernatural horror, but also a very grounded mystery as well. Season 1, in a weird way is an origin story, and season 2 would crack open a lot."
Chambers is currently streaming on Netflix.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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