A Fascinating Failure
Movie Lover: Passe
-- December, 10, 2008
The back of the box has blurb, "a Bresson-meets-Bergman-meets-Wes Craven suspenser." Except it's nowhere near as good as any of those on their own.
A Chronicle of Corpses is about a decaying family of wealthy landowners in New England (I think). The film tries hard to show us they are a decadent, sinful bunch, whose self-indulgent--and therefore, as in all decadent literature, self-destructive--tendencies have angered the gods.
The destined destruction for this family comes primarily in the form of a mysterious murderer in the woods, who begins by killing the servants and then the family members themselves. Who could that mysterious bald lady be?
You'll find out in a lengthy, tight medium-shot soliloquy by the family's matriarch. Yes, a genuine soliloquy. This film is extremely stagey. For anyone who's seen the BBC Shakespeare series, there's a family resemblance. The dialogue is highly stylized and you have to be willing to accept that, otherwise the film will anger you considerably. You'll be constantly yelling, "Nobody talks like that!" People's mouths move, but they don't speak: a gush of what they should be feeling and thinking is expressed in highly-contrived prose.
Similarly, the camera tends to focus on monologue-performances. I would call them dialogues, but even with two people in the shot, they are strangely detached. They rarely look at one another. The camera is rarely moving, but letting these characters, standing in their contrived positions, in abstract spaces, speak their monologues.
The 'slasher' scenes are not much more effective than the (melo)drama scenes. The killer bops people on the head, but we never see the blow. The most horrific scene, in which a baby is butchered, is mildly jarring, but with absolutely no blood and only a single thrust, it's over soon.
There are a few things I did like. The film's patience reminded me of the European directors the DVD box claims it does. Antonioni and Bergman come to mind, as does Jacques Rivette a bit. The character of the matriarch, in her final soliloquy, did intrigue me: I wanted to learn more about her, but alas, it's an 83 minute slasher film. The one thing the film gets right is a general atmosphere of decadence, decay, morbidity--a character even specifically remarks on this. Yet, overall, it is a failure, neither fish nor fowl.
This is certainly a strange horror film, however. I don't believe I've ever seen a horror film done quite like this before. It has some sizable flaws, in my view, and don't believe they'll disappear with rewatching. But for its effort, for what it's trying to do and be, I applaud it.
I would only recommend A Chronicle of Corpses for more adventurous viewers who want to try something different, who tend to like arthouse pictures, and who don't mind films slow as treacle, stagey as Shakespeare.
Must have this!
Movie Lover: Sam Patrickson
-- November, 13, 2003
I am so happy you guys are putting this film out. Will there be a comentary? I saw it twice at the Philly Film Fest in '02 and was blown away. It's as good as Carnival of Souls or Night of the Living Dead (1968) or Eraserhead or The Beguiled or Bluebeard.