Posted February 23, 2009on:
Some bad movies are interesting to watch as a sort of game – where, exactly, did things go wrong? After all, very few people set out to create a movie that stinks; it’s just the unfortunate end result. Chrysalis is not one of those; things were too obviously doomed from the start, when filmmaker Tony Baez Milan decided to adapt a Ray Bradbury short story and decided that a movie whose main subject just sits there would be terribly engrossing.
It’s one of those futures where the environment is wrecked and the consolidated nations of the world are engaged in a war of attrition. Dr. Hartley (John Klemantaski) is doing plant research in an underground bunker, assisted by McGuire (Corey Landis) and Smith (Glen Vaughan). Smith is close to cracking up when one day he collapses, and the others find a green growth on him. It eventually envelops him, becoming a hard shell, and Hartley reluctantly calls hospital colleague Rockwell (Darren Kendrick) and Rockwell’s assistant Murphy (Danny Cameron) in. Mondragon (Larry Dirk), a gung-ho military type, also interjects himself as the scientists try to answer the question of what’s going on with Smith and what should be done with him?
The large and obvious problem with this set-up is that it’s not very conducive to things actually happening. The middle of the movie is what seems like an hour of people standing around Smith, re-iterating that they really don’t know what’s going on. Hartley becomes more paranoid and hostile, frightened of what will emerge from Smith’s chrysalis. Rockwell becomes obsessed with the apparent healing properties of a fluid he has extracted from it. McGuire and Murphy stand around rather interchangeably, and Mondragon wanders off when he realizes that he really doesn’t have anything to do. The scientists “debate”, if by that you mean exchanging wild hypotheses based on the scant information they have. There’s news footage of the outside world that is utterly irrelevant to the story in the bunker.
That’s just one way the filmmakers try to stretch the story out, by the way – it has some of the slowest fade-outs and fade-ins I’ve ever seen. Of course, given the environment I saw it in, I was thankful for that, as the festival/marathon crowd would cheer with each fade out, only to make a collective groan of disappointment when the movie failed to end. You make your own fun in these situations.
There is, after all, precious little of it to be had elsewhere. Chrysalis isn’t even entertainingly awful; the cast is bland but not generally inept. The make-up effects for the chrysalis actually look kind of good, and as cheap as everything looks, it’s not the kind of cheap where you can see shoddy workmanship. The ending is terrible – it’s not quite out of nowhere, but it’s also not something that’s been set up beyond the wild theorizing. The movie doesn’t end the way it does because of any particular actions of the characters or any outside force that has any meaning to us.
So, even when something big happens, it feels like nothing has happened. You can get away with that in a short story (and I suspect that Bradbury’s original story was very short indeed), but in an 85-minute film, it’s a form of torture.