Director: Tony Baez Milan
Starring: John Klemantaski, Darren Kendrick, Glen Vaughan
I think it fair to say the works of Ray Bradbury haven’t always been best served by the movies. Didn’t know about this adaption and I cannot readily recall the short story from whence it came. But, tell you what, someone should’ve warned this daft scientist about chugging Baby Bio straight from the bottle. May contain an irritating fungal infection and spoilers…
A trio of scruffy boffins tucked away in a scientific research bunker are skiving working to find a ‘cure’ for the radiation blasted wilderness devastating the world. Part of their endeavour involves cultivating various plant types in an effort to see if they will adapt to the harsh environment. By the look/ sound of it, they’re not having a bucket of luck. One bloke, Smith (Glen Vaughan) becomes ill after an unofficial sortie outside – sans sun lotion – to, I dunno, dig an allotment or something. While colleagues reflect on his possibly irradiated condition, Smith’s health worsens and his body is gradually encased within a tough, fungal cocoon. The arrival of specialist personnel is compromised when news of Smith is leaked to the military and it becomes an extended dispute on whether to destroy him or wait to see what hatches…
Chrysalis (aka Alien Metamorphosis) is a bargain budget flick that strives to remain diligently respectful to Bradbury. Things don’t get off to a great start, if I’m honest; Smith’s furtive gardening trips are suitably eccentric and these initial scenes are punctuated by TV news reports of a world in meltdown coupled with Smith’s uncanny lethargy. However, the intrigue is derailed by Murphy (Danny Cameron) and Hartley (John Klemantaski), discussing Smith’s sudden penchant for staring at the sullen sunlight coming through the window and the subsequent risk to his eyesight. It’s a shaky acting performance from the pair, particularly Cameron. Maybe it’s inexperience; he was in a web series called Cell two years later and looked much improved but it doesn’t appear that acting is high on his career agenda. Continuing, we are left in no doubt, chiefly via windbag Hartley, that humans are to blame for the planet’s woes. Early on then and it is evident that Chrysalis is going to be talky sci-fi, or ‘character driven’ to be charitable. I don’t mind talky but the two blokes driving this buggy are failing to ram the script into gear. It’s an interesting concept; I should not be fidgeting.
From a viewing perspective, a modicum of relief is attached to the arrival of Rockwell (Darren Kendrick) and sidekick McGuire (Corey Landis). But while they are better actors, the volume of exposition wedded to the film’s key point of interest now prostrate and turning green in a dreary, under-lit location begins to wear. In one scene, for instance, the scientists gather around Smith’s evolving shell for a natter. Rockwell is the centre of focus, becoming more animated as his wilder notions of a coming religious epiphany render his colleagues incredulous. With this sequence wrapped up, you would not expect the movie to head straight into another lengthy dialogue scene but that’s exactly what it does, Rockwell once again mouthing off in addendum. Now, I get Chrysalis isn’t an action movie and I accept that the story doesn’t require flash CGI or folk chasing up and down corridors waving a bazooka. I admire that director Milan and his writers stick to their guns rather than shoe in a load of visual eye-candy to break up the top heavy dialogue. But…
I’m not talking only about the burden of words on offer here; I don’t care if your name is Klemantaski or Richard Burton, no one’s selling a line like “Here, Murphy, you take this (pistol) before I use it on Smith’s foul body…” Who talks like that? It’s a line from a bygone era, I’m guessing it’ll be straight out of the book and hey, maybe Milan included it with a smile and that’s cool (there are a few of these lines dotted about). The line reading itself is either pure Edam or just poor and sadly it looks like the latter, given Klemantaski’s feeble delivery of the twice-used and almost identical ‘I want him dead!’ line, one within seconds of the other. Say it quieter, scream it, ‘Nic Cage’ it, anything, just give us an alternate take. Hartley’s enquiring scientist routine is sorely tested when he receives a psychic threat off the stricken Smith, images of tomb stones and a disembodied voice in his head. While it’s arguable whether or not anything in the vision should alter Hartley’s viewpoint so significantly, gun shenanigans ensue…
As noted, he turns up packing because ‘I want him dead!’ but then asks for the weapon to be taken off him. Erm, yeh. So, there follows a short game of ‘pass the sidearm’. But Rocker’s not happy with the arrival of the military, in the shape of Mondragon (Larry Dirk). He’s ready to commit murder rather than allow him to abscond with his ‘obsession’, Smith. He pockets the pistol with deadly intent but Mondragon is called away suddenly so when Rockwell goes to wave ta-ta to the grim chief he stows the gun, within range of a lurking Hartley, rather than, y’know, keep it with him, say, down the back of his pants. Of course the pistol goes walkabout and the finger-pointing zero’s Hartley. This time he’s definitely going to kill Smith, but not prior to anyone showing up to stop him, he’s going to wait and waffle a bit more first before shooting someone else by mistake. The weapon is duly seized once again, but wouldn’t you know, it’s miraculously back in his possession later on for a suicidal interlude…
Post script: at some point Hartley admits to discovering that the sun’s rays are fatal to the chrysalis and states, “Dunno why I couldn’t finish this before but I certainly would now…” With such a glaring opportunity presented to him, it is not adequately explained why he didn’t. Ergo, this entire “I want him dead!” and Hartley as a ‘loose cannon’ fails. And then there’s the ‘locked door’ shenanigans; when he finds the cocoon positioned in sunlight and burst open Rockwell fears the worst and has a ‘Khan’ moment – “HART-LEEEE!” Thing is, Hartley is locked in a room with McGuire sat outside. That doesn’t stop Rockwell storming in there, accusing an understandably baffled Hartley of sneaking out before modifying the accusation to ‘you opened the window last night and we didn’t notice…’ Didn’t notice? Come on, writers! Have him accuse them of collusion, even better have him turn on McGuire – ‘I heard you talking to Hartley, calling me crazy…’ – an exchange that did take place earlier and interrupted by Rockwell, so he could’ve overheard McGuire quite easily…
So, what we have here is a ‘Christ’ allegory, delivered pretty much on the nose right down to Smith’s back-story; he used to be a minister before turning to science and believed he could ‘change the world with a single thought, with his mind’. That’s the movie right there, as spouted by Murphy. There’s not much else to add. The unrelenting murk doesn’t produce the strived for atmosphere and we are left with this lacking bunch of lads to chew up an unremarkable script. And it cannot be stated enough, there’s some atrocious thesping going on. Vaughan is probably exempt, he doesn’t have a lot to do beside act enigmatic – when he’s not Fungus the Bogeyman, that is. The affable Landis is easily the most natural of the actors on display and during one of the lighter moments it’s totally unfair playing an underperforming Cameron off him. In the spirit of equality, Cameron does pull off an edgy scene of solo self doubt so fair do’s to the bloke.
Dunno really, maybe they should’ve got the cocoon stuff done with early on and then concentrated on some psychological sparring between the protagonists, might have been interesting to see his colleagues trying to identify any change in Smith, with Hartley still intent on murdering him. When the military turn up you could have a bit of ‘hide and seek’ tension while he attempts to evade capture. As it is, with one static scene after another, Chrysalis feels more like a stage play.
Y’know what, I’ve changed me mind about that ‘foul body’ line; I can hear him now, Burton would’ve worked some magic into that…
I’ll give Chrysalis a very fair 2 Fungals out of 5
ThereWolf, November 2015
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