A Chronicle of Corpses

A Chronicle of Corpses

USA, 2000. Not rated. 83 minutes.

Cast: Marj Dusay, Oliver Wyman, Margot White, Ryan Foley, Jerry Perna, Kevin Mitchell Martin, David Semonin, George Spence, David Scott Taylor, Sally Mercer, Melissa S. Rex
Writer: Andrew Repasky McElhinney
Music: Lyle Holdahl
Cinematographer: Abe Holtz
Producer: Andrew Repasky McElhinney
Director: Andrew Repasky McElhinney


Grade: D Review by Jeff Vorndam

"...Being solemn is easy. Being serious is hard... Being solemn has almost nothing to do with being serious... In fact, though Americans talk a great deal about the virtue of being serious, they generally prefer people who are solemn over people who are serious... Jogging is solemn. Poker is serious. Once you can grasp that distinction, you are on your way to enlightenment." - Russell Baker

A ndrew Repasky McElhinney's A Chronicle of Corpses will scare you straight to sleep. This low-budget film, the second from writer/director/producer McElhinney, substitutes solemnity for seriousness. It has a patina of European art-house intellectual rigor, but its substance is clichéd. It's more of an idea for a movie than a movie.

Clocking in at 83 minutes, but feeling like 183, McElhinney's film is about a 19th-century American aristocratic family that is being killed by a metaphor. It's a metaphor for the decay of their lifestyle, of course, one that is incestuous and alcohol ridden, and also just plain outmoded. terrorized by a metaphorThe family lives on a plot of land that is running to rot. There's a demented grandmother, a father and a brother-in-law who sleep together (driving his wife into the arms of the stable boy), an alcoholic son, a priest who struggles with his faith (is there any other kind in this sort of movie?), a baby, and a relatively normal teenage girl. There's not so much a story as a portrayal of this sad lot of folks exuding stale decadence, and getting picked off intermittently by the metaphor/killer. Never a clearly defined entity, the killer tends to pop up every now and then, as if to poke snoozing viewers and remind them they're watching a horror film.

The acting is, across-the-board, terrible, with line readings and body language that make Last Year at Marienbad seem apoplectic in comparison. The dialogue is baldly thematic, lacking authenticity and achieving a comical state of pretentiousness. It's as if McElhinney could think of no other way to communicate his ideas other than having them directly stated in conversations and soliloquies. Soap-star Marj Dusay grinds the film to a dead halt with a monologue that occupies a tenth of the film's running time--and that's probably the most exciting scene!

Tired and lame as all this is, it is stretched to absurdity in its execution. McElhinney seems to want to impress upon us that, just because he's only twenty-one years old, he's no premature ejaculator with the camera. Shots last an interminable length, presumably to recreate the family's torpor, as well as lull the audience into complacency to set them up for the next killing. It comes across as a tiresome, arty affectation, not dissimilar to directors who shoot through windows and behind bits of furniture because it looks, you know, sophisticated. A few critics fell for it though, notably the New York Times, which bestowed a top-ten ranking on A Chronicle of Corpses in 2001. It isn't like other American independent films, and I suppose that alone was deemed sufficient by some. People looking for the antidote to movies as impersonal moneymaking machines found a stridently non-commercial and idiosyncratic example in McElhinney's film. However, bearing a distinct authorial imprint, in and of itself, does not mean the movie is any good. Remember, Ed Wood was an auteur, too.

A Chronicle of Corpses played at the 45th San Francisco International Film Festival on April 29 and April 30, 2002.

Review © April 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2000 ARM Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

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