BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In an ecologically ravaged near-future, a scientist named Smith undergoes a mysterious transformation.
PROS: Interesting premise; cool claustrophobic atmosphere.
CONS: The overall pace is slow; weak characterizations.
BOTTOM LINE: While I applaud the production of a film based on a science fiction short story, I can’t help wishing that this one was just a bit more polished.
Chrysalis, a film based on the 1946 Ray Bradbury story of the same name, posits a near future Earth that is in severe ecological decline. Resource rationing and martial law are the order of the day, but that doesn’t protect against widespread disease and civil unrest. But all of that happens in the outside world and is seen through spotty television reports by a small group of scientists sequestered in a remote bunker. They are working towards a solution to the eco-crisis that will otherwise lead to mankind’s demise. When one of the scientists, Smith, takes ill, he slowly undergoes a mysterious transformation where he becomes covered and eventually enveloped by a shell. But is this transformation a threat or a possible solution to mankind’s problem?
That’s the central conflict of Chrysalis. The extremes of the possible reactions are embodied by the scientists Hartley and Rockwell. Hartley (played by John Klemantaski) is a cynical man, with little hope for mankind’s future. He sees the thing that Smith has become as a threat and wants it destroyed. Meanwhile Rockwell (Darren Kendrick) suspects that a metamorphosis is taking place, possibly bringing about an evolutionary step for mankind — one that could survive the current ecological decline. While these extremes do have the potential to offer significant conflict, it seems that Hartley’s suspicion is based on fear and Rockwell’s is based on blind faith – neither attitude paying respect to their scientific backgrounds. As such, the characters seem more like archetypes and their arguments feel more like childish power struggles than rational discussion.
That’s too bad. Since a large majority of the film focuses on character portrayal, this interaction is critical. But instead of thought-provoking dialogue there is much posturing and bravado which, in turn, negatively affected the pacing of the film. For their part, the actors do a decent job. Smith in particular, as played by Glen Vaughan, gives a perfectly understated (if relatively brief) performance as a man struggling to maintain hope. The film also carries with it a nicely done claustrophobic feel. Most scenes take place in the bunker and the brief glimpses of the outside world serve to validate and intensify that isolation.
While I applaud the production of a film based on a science fiction short story — and one by a master of the form, no less – I can’t help wishing that this one was just a bit more polished.