Imagine a time in the near future when memories could be transplanted to another human brain, or removed entirely. That simple premise is the key idea behind Chrysalis, the directorial debut from Julien Leclercq. Taking obvious elements from Blade Runner, the recent Bourne films and A Clockwork Orange, Chrysalis tries to fashion them into something new. While it comes close in some rare moments, overall it simply rehashes some of the most memorable scenes from much more memorable films. Flirting with cyberpunk and film noir elements but refusing to commit, Chrysalis is an initially interesting prospect that ultimately just goes through the motions.
Visually very slick, it is also particularly well acted, and the performances of the talented cast go some way towards covering up some of the weaknesses of the script. Albert Dupontel compellingly smoulders throughout. Alain Figlarz makes for a physically monstrous villain. Marthe Keller completes the line-up with possibly the most difficult role of the film as the grieving and morally twisted Professor Brugen. Dupontel and Figlarz are particularly good in the action scenes, both actors impressively performing all their stunts. The two extended fights scenes between their characters are real highlights, recalling the Bourne films (Figlarz worked on some of the stunts for The Bourne Identity). But unfortunately for the cast, the script is entirely underwhelming and an ill-judged plot ‘twist’ midway through the film reveals Chrysalis to be nothing more than an under-developed soap opera.
Director Leclercq makes the most of his sparse sets and skilfully uses CGI effects to create washed-out, stripped-down sets, with only his reliance on interiors hinting at the film’s low budget. Leclercq obviously has a strong eye for visuals, but sadly with Chrysalis he fails to mesh them with a human story. First-time directors often try to throw everything into their first film, but it feels like Leclercq is holding back here. There are moments that hint at a stronger director, and the opening fifteen minutes in particular have a real energy to them; but very soon the plot descends into cliché. With no less than four different writers working on the script, there really is no excuse for such a thin plot, but then again it is possible that this is precisely the reason for the lack of a coherent direction.
At the outset it looks like Chrysalis will be exploring the processes of the memory – what it is and how people are defined by it. Unfortunately, any complex ideas are dropped in favour of keeping the ‘memory’ aspects as a simple plot point. Chrysalis is never a dull film, but it lacks the imaginative spark that would push it above the mass of half-baked sci-fi thrillers. The strong cast and slick visuals keep the audience interested for the duration of the film, but ultimately – and ironically – it’s unforgivably forgettable.