Twitter Plot Summary: A couple try and survive in the remnants of a city some years after a zombie apocalypse strikes. They join a fellow survivor seeking safety.
Chrysalis is a zombie film where the script was specifically built around the rundown location found by the production team, and an effective location it is too. Old and decrepit, it looks precisely like a city which has fallen into disrepair after years of neglect, and just what would happen to a heaving metropolis following an outbreak of the undead. That is however the only aspect of the production that works really well. It may have a perfect setting and look the part, but the story isn’t all that much and the pace is often painfully slow. A brief time away from the old buildings would have also helped as sticking so closely to them results in each subsequent scene looking like the last one.
At the core of Chrysalis is the love story between Penelope (Sarah Gorsky) and Joshua (Cole Simon), two survivors trying to eke out an existence and find enough food to sustain themselves in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. Their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of Abira (Tanya Thai McBride), who persuades them that there is a safe haven awaiting them not far away. Sensibly/foolishly they decide to go with her. If you are familiar with the genre then you know that this will likely go one of two ways – death or glory.
When the zombie attacks happen, they’re claustrophobic and tense affairs thanks to the tight, dimly lit corridors in which they take place, however this often feels like it’s almost as much about necessity than it is about a directorial choice. Dispatching the zombies with a pickaxe blow to the noggin and other sharp or blunt instruments that happen to be lying around, the violence is often visceral and realistic. Often it’s like you’re the zombie and you’re the one being stabbed in the head.
But then these moments are poorly balanced against the vast number of scenes where little of interest happens. Perhaps dictated by budget, there is a lot of talking without necessarily developing the characters or the situation. The zombies are kept frustratingly out of sight and you get the impression that more may have been done with them had there been more money or available zombie extras to play with. Social and relationship commentaries are often relevant in zombie cinema, but their success depends on how you tackle it. There’s none of the subtlety of a Romero script to Chrysalis’ subtext.
With that said, the core theme of finding what it means to live in such an environment, and the possibility of raising a child in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, is an interesting one. You do get a genuine feel for the longstanding relationship between Penelope and Joshua, and this proves to be the strongest aspect of the film besides the setting. It would have been better perhaps to stretch out Abira’s role to make her more antagonistic and to more clearly bounce off Penelope and Joshua, but its her role to get those two away from their established pattern of survival and to move towards something more like living.