Movie Review – Chronicle (2012)
by NIR SHALEV
Chronicle, although shot entirely in Cape Town, South Africa is set in Seattle (it’s a mystery to me) and follows the daily lives of three teenage boys: Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the most popular guy in school who’s also running for school president; Matt (Alex Russell), a very friendly and likable jock; and Andrew (Dane DeHann), Matt’s cousin and a lonely teenager who’s periodically beaten by his alcoholic father and whose mother lies sick in bed all day.
Andrew purchased a camcorder a few months back and had decided to chronicle every day of his life out of frustration with his terrible lifestyle and lack of friends. He takes the camcorder with him everywhere that he goes, including a rave that Matt drags him to. While there, Matt and Steve approach Andrew because of his camcorder and together they venture outdoors and find a large hole in the ground that leads to a dark cave. When something inside the cave that glows green turns red, the boys pass out and upon awakening a while later find out that they have developed telekinetic abilities.
For those new to telekinesis, it’s the ability to move objects, including oneself, with one’s own mind. The three boys, acting like the average teenager would (myself included if I was still a teenager), start playing harmless yet funny pranks on one another and on strangers. At a toy store, Matt levitates a teddy bear in front of a young girl; Steve moves a woman’s parked car and her reaction to her “stolen car” is genuinely hilarious. However, the fun stops when Andrew, angry at a truck that’s tailing them on a one lane country road waves his hand and launches it into a pond. The driver of the truck almost dies.
Andrew, living without proper parental support has far stronger telekinetic powers than Steve and Matt and begins to turn his hate on others. Whenever life seems to get better at some points something negative happens and impacts his social status, sending him into a darker place, creating what would be referred to as a villain. Steve and Matt genuinely like Andrew and it’s not just because of his superior telekinetic abilities; he’s a decent guy once the dark clouds pass from overhead. Whatever choices Andrew makes, whether to become a better person or a worse one are entirely his to make. The film showcases that whatever decisions he does make, whether we like them or not, are in accordance with his character.
The camera doesn’t always shake violently in this film and as a really neat gimmick Andrew eventually uses his telekinesis to levitate his camera all around him instead of holding it all the time; the cinematographer then utilize camera cranes, steadicams, and so on. In one scene Andrew and Steve are sitting on the rooftop of a skyscraper, their feet dangling off the edge, and the camera hovers next to them. And at a later point, Andrew develops the ability to do so without even having to concentrate on it.
Another terrific scene that sticks in my mind is when the trio learns that they can fly. Their first idea is to take off and fly above the clouds and play football. That is until a passenger plane interrupts their game of catch.
Drive was one of the last year’s best films because, and this is only one reason, it dealt with the mythology of the superhero but placed it in our recognizable world. Chronicle goes for a far more realistic take (as realistic as it can get) on the superhero film genre. As it explores the Youtube generation and teen depression/eventual angst, it delves deep into the concept of what would happen if a depressed teenager who’s beaten by his father and who’s unable to save his mother from an illness would do if he’d received telekinetic powers. I can’t say that I’ve seen a superhero film before that focuses on the creation and reason for being of the antagonist; and if Chronicle is the first film to focus on that then I hope that it’s not going to be the last.
Here’s a film that boasts virtually unknown, albeit talented young actors; ingenious ways of using multiple camera shots; and a final showdown that is epic in scope and delivery. It echoes Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (1988) brilliantly and borrows terrifically from a classic film that also deals violently with teenage angst.
The other great talent behind the film is its first time feature film director Josh Trank and its co-writer Max Landis, son of master director John Landis. The screenplay’s rather tight; there’s no reason to go into details behind the glowing thingy in the cave, and the cinematography lets as much happen on screen as possible and without resorting to cutaways, unnecessary close-ups, or insert shots. It looks and feels like the work of a troubled teenage boy and the footage that was “found” is rather breathtaking. Audiences will love the third act; it’s impressive.
The “found footage” style of filmmaking is more than just a passing fad; it’s now a real film genre. It began more than a decade before The Blair Witch Project (1999) appeared (Zelig come to mind?) but that’s the film that sealed the deal. Blair Witch was the first internationally distributed film of its kind that’s managed to have audience members asking, “Did this really happen?” For obvious reasons the answer was no, but the formula worked and money was made.
The problem with most found footage films nowadays is that they’re comfortable with just being cash cows. The Paranormal Activity films have grown significantly worse in style and content as they’ve gone along, yet each film in the series has made more money than the last, breaking box office records; and the same goes for the latest found footage fixation with films dealing with exorcisms (except The Last Exorcism, that film was really good). Chronicle stands alone as a superhero film (where no one in the film even mentions the word superhero), as a companion to Akira, and as a February release that could easily have been released in the summer and would have made even more money.
3 1/2 stars