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February 15, 2012

6

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


6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michelle
    Feb 15 2012

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this film! I went in knowing close to nothing about it, and that was a plus. I thought this showed the gritty reality of how the acquisition of superpower might play out. I was transfixed.

    Side note, I also liked The Last Exorcism. Patrick Fabian carried that role nicely, and the young lady (whose name escapes me) was phenomenal. I hope she’ll continue acting.

  2. Feb 16 2012

    @Michelle, the young girl in question is Ashley Bell and I’d read somewhere that she’s a contortionist and a dancer, so she didn’t need a stunt double to contort herself into all of those horrible body positions. I’m glad that someone else also appreciates talented filmmaking and storytelling in the case of The Last Exorcism. :O)

    As for Chronicle, it blew me away. I saw the trailer after I watched the film and noticed that it makes the three main characters into unlikable jerks; which is entirely the opposite in the film. They are very likeable teenagers and it’s a lot of fun hanging around with them. It’s also sad when things go awry and we feel for them, and especially Andrew.

  3. Feb 18 2012

    We reviewed this a few weeks ago and my two partners in crime enjoyed this film much more than I did. I found the found footage annoying. As you described Andrew begins to make the camera float above him shortly after getting his powers. If they were going to do that then whey even bother bother with found footage?
    While I agree that typical high school kids would get into some hijinx, I felt the characters were dumbed down quite a bit. For instance they have to look up telekinesis in a dictionary and Andrew despite having the power to fly and knock down walls decides the best score to get some cash is the local gas and sip, really?

  4. Feb 19 2012

    !!!DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE FILM!!!

    @3guys1movie, Andrew isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and we all know that anger clouds our judgement. When things go awry, Matt decides on inflicting rules so that the three of them don’t stand out but Andrew doesn’t want to follow rules. When his descent into madness commences, you’ll notice that he plucks a school bully’s teeth straight out of his mouth and in front of a crowd of people. At that moment, Andrew was terribly angry and didn’t mind his surroundings. But in the later scene when he needs money for his mom’s drugs, although he was upset, clearly he was of sound mind. He wanted to go in and out quickly and it backfired on him.

    Andrew’s third act meltdown was appropriately within his characteristics; he went berserk and caused a tremendous amount mayhem. But that’s who he is and it came back to bite him in the end.

    The aspect of Andrew controlling his camera with his mind was indicating progression, as explained by Matt when he read that their powers are similar to a rubber band: you stretch it more and more, developing more telekinetic powers and eventually make yourself stronger.

    Now here’s he one thing that I dislike about found footage films: when it comes of horror films or thrillers that are based on true stories, at least one person needs to remain alive at the end so that they can tell their story to the public. But when it comes to found footage films, the very idea behind the film style allows the writers to kill off the entire cast because their footage is going to be found at a later date by a third party and is going to be edited together to produce a product that tells, coherently their tragic tale.

    The very idea of found footage films tells the audience from its genesis that the main cast is going to die, or at least most of them. Look at Trollhunter: the film opens with captions telling the audience that the film was reedited into it proper shooting sequence and that after many careful studies the footage appears to be 100% genuine. That’s the screenwriter having fun with found footage storytelling and tells the audience right from the start that it’s all just a big, fun joke.

    Look at Blair Witch: all three main characters died by its end, and inexplicably; also, everybody died in The Last Exorcism and also in Paranormal Activity, which is why every subsequent film in the PA series is a prequel to the previous (the third one, apparently goes into the 1980s).

    And lastly, it is possible that in their universe some students that don’t watch a lot of TV and aren’t nerds are unfamiliar with telekinesis. Believe me, it’s possible.

    I hope that I’ve managed to clarify the film a bit more and tweaked what may seem like problems (and I’m glad that you didn’t use the word plot holes because it’d be grossly misused). I also hope that you give it a second chance when it’s on DVD/Blu-ray.

    I noticed that many people find Chronicle to be idiotic and I feel that they seem to confuse found footage films and reality; and that sucks because they’re polar opposites.

  5. Aaron
    Mar 4 2012

    I liked the film mostly, I thought it was very well written and acted, but I felt as if a few moments from the middle could have been cut off. There were just a few scenes that for me, didn’t serve a purpose narrative or character wise.

  6. Mar 4 2012

    It’s like that with many films and most especially with found footage films. In Chronicle, I was wondering what purpose the female character played, aside from allowing the audience to see the camera operator from time to time.

    And another found footage film that is also great and actually pulls off that off is George A. Romero’s “Diary of the Dead”. It’s essentially a reboot of his own “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), seeing that it goes back to ground zero again, but this time it exists in the media obsessed culture of the 21st century. The internet age, etc. It has two camera operators throughout the film that take turns recording the happenings and when the main party arrives at a vacant, huge house toward the film’s end, it’s filled with security cameras inside so the audience can see the main cast more so. :O)

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