[At top: Kate Black-Spence fights bone density issues]
I have to explain something right at the top here: Like many other fans of independent horror cinema, I suffer from Apocalypse Fatigue. It’s a real problem, brought on by watching countless low- to no-budget productions about on the (usually zombie-related) apocalypse. At best, these films give us a handful of characters to empathize with as they wander through remote, isolated areas (see also: Jeremy Gardner’s THE BATTERY). At worst, these films head into the woods and are packed with characters nobody could possibly be expected to care about (too many to even mention). And so it was with some trepidation that I approached John Klein’s post-apocalyptic film CHRYSALIS. Fortunately, this is one of those rare films that brings something new to the low-budget PA thriller: a truly unnerving sense of an abandoned world dying away.
Joshua (Cole Simon) and Penelope (Sara Gorsky) are a young couple foraging carefully and slowly through the remains of an unnamed city. The year is 2038, twenty-five years after a catastrophic series of events destroyed most of the world’s major cities and left the large majority of the human population infected with some sort of virus that turns them into mindless cannibals. The city is long-abandoned and thoroughly picked over, but Joshua is determined that if there are any other survivors lost or hiding, he and Penelope will find them and help them. They spend their days poking around in ruined buildings, looking for some sign of life or some food, weapons, anything that will help them keep going in the brutal cold.
One night, they are surprised to run into another survivor, a woman named Abira (Tanya Thai McBride). Abira explains that she is on the way to a rendezvous point on the other side of the city where she will be meeting up with the group of survivors with whom she has been traveling. Penelope is uncertain of Abira’s motives, but Joshua is so glad to see another living human that he immediately offers her food and shelter, and decides that he and Penelope will join Abira in finding her group. As they make their way across the desolate ruins of the city, the number of Infected seem to grow larger than Joshua has ever seen. What he does not know is that Abira carries a secret that could save them all—or destroy them.
There is no doubt that CHRYSALIS treads some well-worn PA territory. However, the incredible production design and location shooting give the film a more convincing post-apocalyptic look than anything this side of John Hillcoat’s THE ROAD. Shot in parts of Chicago and Gary, Indiana during a vicious winter, CHRYSALIS truly looks like it was shot after the end of civilization. Its ruined locations are so completely convincing, in fact, that they nearly distract from the action of the film. It is occasionally difficult to focus on what is going on in the story when the locations are so disturbing. If this was the only thing going for it, CHRYSALIS would be worth a look.
Fortunately, the film does have more to offer. There are some strange dialogue choices, but the small cast makes the most of their screen time and each of them gives a solid, convincing performance. The sparse makeup and special effects are done very well, with gruesome practical effects of the Infected and their attacks punctuating the long, deceptive periods of calm. CG is used even more sparingly and to simple but worthwhile effect, helping create the illusion of the ruined city skyline in the background of some shots. Special mention must also be made of Darren Callahan’s excellent atmospheric score, which perfectly complements the gray, nearly monochrome cinematography and barren cityscapes. Despite its sense of familiarity and the occasional awkward line, CHRYSALIS stands out from the PA horde thanks to its amazing locations, strong performances, and an overall level of technical proficiency that belies its small budget. Even if you, like me, suffer from Apocalypse Fatigue, CHRYSALIS is well worth seeking out.
CHRYSALIS is available to watch online, or buy on DVD, through its official website: http://www.therestaredead.com
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