Chimera Strain (2018) poster

Chimera Strain (2018)


India/USA. 2018.


Director/Screenplay – Maurice Haeems, Producers – Eric B. Fleischman, Maurice Haeems & Jay Sitaram, Photography – David Kruta, Music – Aled Roberts, Visual Effects – Digital Post Services (Supervisor – A.J. Rickert-Epstein), Special Effects Supervisor – John S. Ruggieri, Makeup Effects – Makeup Effects/Prosthetics – Benjamin S. Bornstein, Production Design – Lawrence Sampson. Production Company – Praxis Media Ventures/Potion Mixers Motion Pictures.


Henry Ian Cusick (Dr Peter Quint), Jenna Harrison (Charlie), Kathleen Quinlan (Matheson), Karishma Ahluwalia (Jessie), Erika Ervin (Dita Gruze), Raviv E. Haeems (Miles) Kaavya Jayaram (Flora), Jennifer Gjulameti (Griffin), Lawrence Sampson (Luke)


The geneticist Dr Peter Quint works in seclusion at the abandoned Bly Biochemicals facility. He keeps his wife Jessie alive on a machine and his children Miles and Flora’s dead bodies frozen in crypto-biosis. At the same time, he takes pills that bring them back to life in his mind. Quint attempts to perfect a process that will create a genetic chimera of human and jellyfish DNA that will allow a person vast abilities to regenerate from damage and repair aging. It is his hope that he can use this to revive his wife and children. However, he is prevented in obtaining essential items to complete the experiment because of the lack of availability of stem cells, the use of which has been declared illegal. He is forced to conduct a deal with the ruthless Matheson in order to get the supplies he needs.

Chimera Strain was a feature-film debut for Indian director Maurice Haeems. Hailing from Mumbai, Haeems’ IMDB bio proudly states he has a degree in engineering and an MBA in finance and is apparently a polymath who “has enjoyed successful careers in mechanical/fluid engineering, investment banking, and software entrepreneurship.” At the age of 48, Haeems decided he also needed to fulfil a long-time ambition to make a movie, raised capital with his friend Jay Sitaram and made Chimera Strain. The film was shot in an abandoned factory in Massachusetts.

It took me a long time to get into Chimera Strain. Much of the show is set around Henry Ian Cusick working on his experiments in a factory laboratory. By and large, films about the scientific process are dull. It is not helped here by the film only giving hints and teases about what Cusick is working on. Throughout he is variously visited by his wife (Karishma Ahluwalia) and two children (Raviv E. Haeems and Kaavya Jayaram), although it only gradually becomes apparent that they appear in his head and that in fact her body lies on life support and the two children are in cryogenic suspension coffins. What is not entirely made clear is the fact that Cusick only sees her when he takes a red pill and the children when he takes the blue pill. The outfits the wife and children wear are colour coded to match the respective pills, leaving you unsure if this is all in his mind or else the pills somehow bring them to life.

During the course of this, Cusick is forced to make a deal with a wonderfully ruthless Kathleen Quinlan and her impressively tough female bodyguard (in fact 6 foot 8” tall transgender model/actress Erika Ervin aka Amazon Eve). They keep pushing him to do things he doesn’t want all so he can obtain stem cells – we seem to be in a Near Future setting where the use of such has been banned. At the same time, Cusick’s former work colleague Jenna Harrison comes to visit, concerned for him and wanting to reconnect where they seem to briefly engage in a fitful relationship of sorts.

There is much circulating around these various elements as they play out that left me struggling to feel engaged in what was going on. Mostly it feels like a film with one man in a laboratory conducting experiments where it is not clear what is going on amid all the pseudo-scientific doubletalk. Haeems also obscures what is happening with his family and Cusick’s relationship to the people who visit. so everything that is happening feels cryptic.

Henry Ian Cusick as Dr Peter Quint in Chimera Strain (2018)
Henry Ian Cusick as Dr Peter Quint

Where the film gets more interesting are its literary allusions – even the two kids quote from Waiting for Godot (1953). Much of the film has been construed as a homage to The Turn of the Screw (1898), the Henry James psychological ghost story that has been multiply filmed, most famously as The Innocents (1961) and The Haunting of By Manor (2020). In the book, a governess comes to Bly Estate to tend two orphaned children Miles and Flora and finds that they worshipped the cruel groundsman Peter Quint who is now dead along with his lover, her predecessor Miss Jessel. The governess comes to believe that the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel are haunting the children and getting them to behave in very adult ways, although equally all of this could all be in her repressed imagination.

Chimera Strain plays with The Turn of the Screw in some interesting ways. In the book, the governess is the central character and Peter Quint is dead, whereas in the film there is no governess and Peter Quint becomes the central character, a geneticist working on resurrecting his children. In the book, the governess possibly imagines the children are haunted by ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel, whereas in the film we see Quint have imaginary conversations with his two dead children and his ex. Most of the characters are named after the ones in The Turn of the Screw – Quint, his wife/lover Jessie/Miss Jessel, the children Miles and Flora, while the cook Miss Grosse becomes the Amazonian bodyguard Dita Gruze.

Where the film starts to get clever and work (for me anyway) is in its last third. In the book, Quint was a cruel man, yet we see nothing of that in the film. On the other hand, there comes a point in around the last 20 minutes where the film does an abrupt dramatic reversal on us and [PLOT SPOILERS] turns the previously innocuous character of the co-worker Charlie (Jenna Harrison) into someone come to steal his research (we even see her impregnating herself with the embryo so she can carry it out of the factory) and then changing everything around to implicate Cusick for a series of abominable experiments, while she goes off to set up her own company with his research. The last we see of Cusick is him being dragged off by the authorities and jailed – in other words turned into the sort of monster that the literary Quint was, while the story itself undergoes a shifting of viewpoint in much the same way that Henry James left the narrative ambiguous.

Trailer here

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