NZIFF Review – ‘Chronesthesia’ (dir. Hayden Weal)

If you’ve seen your fair share of 48HOURS films, you’ll probably have a seen at least a couple films by Moffilaide, whose films I’ve always looked forward to. If you’re familiar with the standard their work brings to the screen, you’ll probably have a good idea of the expectations I had when I was going in to see the premiere of Chronesthesia – and the film exceeded all those expectations by far.

Chronesthesia, a self-described indie romance with time travel, tells the story of the noncommittal and emotionally distant Dan (played by Weal) who suddenly and inexplicably starts having a series of strange dreams that result in him waking up to find cryptic messages written on his bedroom window. The mystery of who is leaving these dreams and how quickly takes a backseat when compared to the mysteries that begin to unravel when he decides to follow the messages. The characters he meets along his journey way are all diverse and ultimately endearing in their own ways, and while there are a fair few cast, their relationships with Dan are all individual and unique and very satisfying to watch play out. All are played by local actors, with some familiar faces, with the likes of Julian Dennison (Hunt for the Winderpeople), Cohen Holloway (Hunt for the Winderpeople, Find me a Maori Bride) and Nova Waretini-Hewison (The Sleeping Plot) – another one of the actors also happens to be former head girl/a schoolmate at my old high school, haha.

While Chronesthesia is described as a romance, it’s the time travel mystery/pseudo-psychological thriller aspects to the story that stand out the most, at least to me – it’s fantastically presented with a multitude of frankly spectacular match-cut sequences, the tension they create heightened even further by an excellent soundtrack. The writing is superb, with a lot of good humour, well-done interconnecting storylines, and a bunch of really clever recurring motifs that blew my mind with the double/triple meanings that could be applied to it. It manages to shy away from becoming too much a horror movie by means of its lighthearted humour, as well as in its cast/acting, and the fact that the entirety of the film seems more or less devoted to showing Wellington scenery in its best light. The resulting film is slick, engaging and heartwarming, and if you didn’t know that it was produced with a crew of two/three on no budget and shot over weekends around full-time jobs and unpredictable Wellington weather, it’d be easy to assume it was a big budget production with a sizeable team behind it. The amount of polish in the production is top-notch, with my only minor issues being some sound sync issues (with 400+ lines of ADR I don’t hold it against them though) and some teensy opening titles I had to squint to see from the back of the theatre.

One thing that I really appreciated in terms of characters was that the mentally ill character was treated with respect, and in fact (spoiler) got a happy ending. Too often in media characters with mental illnesses are perpetrators of violence and have to be put down (in fact, people with mentally illness are more likely to be the victims that perpetrators of violence), so it was a welcome relief  to see the schizophrenic character survive everything after spending most of the last act dreading the moment where he might be killed. As learned from the Q&A following the screening, Weal was in fact confronting an internalised fear of his own in this regard, and consulted with a mental health professional while writing the script.

Another thing I really appreciated was that while the love interest was Asian, and while her being Asian was brought up as being a part of her identity and who she was, it wasn’t the sole defining trait of her existence (nor Dan’s attraction to her) and she had plenty of agency and autonomy. This was a pretty good moment for me – Western media has a long way to go when it comes to representations of Asians on screen that aren’t tokenised, infantilised or sexualised, so it was nice to see that on screen.

Overall, Chronesthesia is a thoroughly enjoyable movie and – I would say – a big success for not only New Zealand cinema at large but also local independent filmmaking. Seeing these kinds of stories be produced with this kind of quality is incredibly inspiring, and I look forward to seeing future projects from Weal as they come! Highly recommended, would definitely see again if I had the opportunity.

Rating: ★★★★★

Other screenings of Chronesthesia at the Wellington NZIFF are:
• Sun 31 July, 3:30PM @ Lighthouse Petone
• Wed 3 August, 3:45PM @ Paramount
• Tues 9 August, 8:30PM @ Paramount

Michelle can be found on Facebook and YouTube and can also be supported on Patreon.

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