CHIMERA: Not quite horror, but still quite good
Fifty years in the future, the brilliant but disturbed scientist Peter Quint (Henry Ian Cusick) works desperately to save his children from a gruesome and painful death. Miles (Raviv Haeems) and Flora (Kaavya Jayaram) are dying of the same degenerative cellular disease that claimed Quint’s wife, Jessie (Karishma Ahluwalia). The cure to their illness lies in the DNA of turritopsis, the immortal jellyfish. Quint secludes himself with his family and research in a remote manufacturing facility, but without access to fetal stem cells, his progress stalls. He resorts to making a deal with his sinister former boss who has her own selfish designs for Quint’s research. Under pressure and running out of time, Quint continually crosses new ethical lines in his pursuit of a cure.
CHIMERA wastes no time on introductions, instead dropping us right into Quint’s world. The scenes follow a non-linear timeline that mirrors Quint’s unravelling psyche. The effect is to leave us wondering when events happened—if they happened at all. Yet the film never loses its sense of urgency. The entire runtime is a race against the clock as Quint faces the unforgiving deadline of death—though, in this case, not his own. Because Quint’s motivations aren’t selfish, it’s difficult to root against him, even as the nature of his research becomes ghastly. As the story winds deeper into an ethical mire, we come to question some of our own moral standing in hoping for Quint’s success.
The horror of the film rests in the intimate portrayal of the characters as flawed and complex human beings with motivations that are as simple as their resulting actions are complex.
Henry Ian Cusack carries the movie with his excellent portrayal of Quint’s fragile mind. Quint is a cold, calculating scientist in almost every regard except when faced with an immediate moral travesty. These moments where we see through the cracks of his personality give us a glimpse into the terror that Quint faces at his own actions.
Quint is both encouraged and opposed by his former employer, Masterson (Kathleen Quinlan), who wants his research for her own selfish gains. She serves as the major opposing force to Quint, providing him with what he needs but always after significant struggle and always at a high cost. It is her actions that drive Quint the furthest in his pursuit of a cure. She serves as a powerful mirror to Quint’s own obsession, wanting his research for reasons that seem altruistic on the surface, but don’t stand up to ethical scrutiny.
Quint’s family serves as his moral compass, even if he doesn’t listen to them. They appeal to the loving side of him, rather than the scientist and fear for what will happen to his soul in the midst of his work. His wife, Jessie, serves as a strange voice of reason, considering that she is comatose for the entirety of the film.
Charlie (Jenna Harrison), Quint’s former coworker and sometimes lover, pulls him in the opposite direction. She believes and supports his genius, though his deteriorating sanity concerns her. She sees the good that can come of Quint’s work beyond the scope of his immediate family and, ultimately, the profit and fame that could also result. Charlie begins as a flat and uninteresting romantic subplot, but transforms throughout the movie into a complex character with staggering implications for the events of the film that lead to the hair-raising ending.
When speaking of the film, it is necessary to also mention the setting, which is so instrumental that it acts almost as an additional character. An abandoned industrial complex serves as the backdrop for the events of the film. Beyond providing a dangerous maze of tunnels and dark corners behind which secrets and danger lie, the setting diverges sharply with typical science fiction expectations, though it feels familiar for those who watch horror. Science fiction often gravitates toward stainless steel, glass, and sterile facilities. In contrast, the dingy metal, disused equipment, and abandoned hallways of CHIMERA seem like a modern Frankenstein’s laboratory—a madman’s workspace where the line between life and death is manipulated rather than revered. It leaves us with the impression that surely no wholesome science could arise from such origins.
The true horror in CHIMERA is not in anything that happens on screen (though there is plenty to hold you to your seat), but in the implication that this story won’t stay purely fiction for long. When creating the film, writer/director Maurice Haeems tirelessly researched gene therapy and where the field is likely to go in the future. As a result, the scientific premise of the movie is chillingly real. It adds a dimension to the story that would otherwise place this firmly in the hard-science fiction category, the lingering understanding throughout that this story is right around the corner from today. It portrays humanity as incapable of weighing the moral implications of science, dooming us to a spiral of frightening ethics in pursuit of some possibly unobtainable utopian future. CHIMERA asks: if the goal is to save all of mankind, is any price too high? And how do we cope with the atrocities committed in pursuit of it?
If you are looking for violence, gore, or jump scares, this movie is not for you. It focuses instead on a more cerebral sort of horror. The suspense stems from complex characterization and deep insight into the human nature to love even if it makes us monsters. This is not a teen fright flick, but perhaps it can be viewed as a science fiction success.