A Chronicle Of Corpses Movie Review

An unseen assassin is killing off members of the family one by one, but in a way that defies cinematic expectations. A Chronicle of Corpses imagines the horror movie as seen through a telescope, making full use of artfully composed long takes that reduce victims to insignificant pinpoints on the horizon. Scurrying back and forth across the lawns of a musty 19th century estate, cloaked by an all-pervasive darkness, the aristocratic Elliott family is actually being destroyed by the weight of ever-shifting American history and Gothic tradition. Comparisons to Barry Lyndon's affected drawing room tone may seem appropriate, and much of the story is told through painterly tableaus and meditative Steadicam tracking shots, but that reference doesn't begin to suggest Chronicle's wild and often comic streak of freakish morbidity.

An early glimpse of the Elliott clan at communion suggests an earnest struggle for pious redemption. Philadelphia filmmaker Andrew Repasky McElhinney stacks the deck of atonement, providing each family member with secret sins and personal demons. As paterfamilias Mr. Eliott (stoic Kevin Mitchell Martin) asks none too subtly, "Can rooms be haunted, as memory is haunted?" He shares the love that dares not speak its name with his corpulent brother-in-law, a carryover from their distant schoolboy days. His neglected wife (Sally Mercer) finds a more willing mate in their burly stable boy. Their son distracts himself in alcohol, while the unapproachable grandmother (Marj Dunsay) has retreated into silent catatonia. Long before the carnage starts, this is a house of the walking dead.

The key word is restraint, sometimes to the point of somnambulant lethargy. Those who don't give themselves over to the maddeningly slow pace may find themselves adrift despite the cleverly staged murder setpieces, but patient and perceptive viewers will be enthralled by the suspense of the lingering shots and the inevitable shock when McElhinney (and editor Ron Kalish) decide to cut. It's the old bait-and-switch of steady anticipation and revelation. A dogged search across the fog-coated moors builds to a fatalistic (and purposeful) anticlimax. A baby left in its rocker becomes an exercise in vulnerability, with the wide open door beckoning a nursemaid, or perhaps something more malevolent.

Running at a mostly compact 83 minutes, Chronicle makes a strong case for the featurette as art form. It still feels about 20 minutes too long, a reminder that Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft wrote uncanny short stories but patchy novels. But this poisoned little poem thankfully doesn't wear out his welcome like the insipid Blair Witch Project (a potentially compelling short subject made tedious at feature length). Already developing a new feature bearing the lurid title Flowers of Evil, McElhinney may find uncover more intricate variations on his themes of romanticism and decay.

What's most impressive about McElhinney's highbrow period film is its ability to satisfy snobbish cultural aesthetes while simultaneously fulfilling slasher film conventions. Most of the fourteen-member ensemble cast will have been dispatched by hatchet, knife, rifle, or poison by Chronicle's end. Some mysteriously disappear along the sidelines Blair Witch style. Others are discovered in a postmortem splatter of blood. Think of it as a caveat to those who secretly wished that Jack Nicholson (in wild-eyed mode from The Shining) had wandered into The Remains of the Day wielding a mallet. It's the art film from hell.

Corpses in the drawing room.


Comments

A Chronicle Of Corpses Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2000

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