Going into Chronicle, I had experienced only the smallest amount of spoiler-age. Even as far as the basic setup went, all I knew was that three high school guys come in contact with something that we assume is alien and that, through that contact, they gain some “powers“. I also knew that it uses the much maligned “found footage” style of shooting.
I’ll admit that that worried me a little. Out of the few (spoiler free) reviews that I’d read online, the biggest criticism was that the whole “found footage” thing fails miserably … and, as I was fed up of that concept even before Paranormal Activity attempted it (pretty successfully), I wasn’t all that anxious to experience another bad example of it. I didn’t think Blair Witch was quite worthy of the attention it received on release, even though it did bring this style to the public’s attention. But as is the case in these things, the movie that makes most people aware of the concept doesn’t stand up to any real scrutiny and falls far from being the best of its kind, 15 years on. I think the title that deserves THAT title is the 2007 Spanish movie, “[REC]“.
However, Chronicle comes pretty close. Director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis (son of John) take the concept several steps further and even bring it into the 21st century with the clever ways in which different sources provide the video feed as it moves forward. Yeah, I know Cloverfield did this too. But personally, I don’t think it came close to Chronicle. Plus, Chronicle never holds your hand and beats you over the head with extraneous explanations of what’s happened between bouts of filming. It lets you fill in those blanks. That kind of trust in the viewers’ intelligence goes a long way in increasing it’s likability for me!
So, our main character and protagonist, Andrew is the quintessential whiney school kid. Beaten and bullied both at school and at home … in fact, it seems that every effort was made to make poor Andrew the most pathetic, bullied school kid in movie history! It’s a character arc we’ve seen a million times before. The ultimate underdog story. Can he overcome his problems? Can he move past the bullies all over him and his life and come through the other side unscarred? Twenty minutes in, you’re really struggling to have any sympathy at all for this guy that is just allowing himself to be squashed by everything and everyone he encounters. The only things that keep you from completely turning off emotionally from him is the dying mother, the abusive father and the cousin Matt who clearly has some love for him, despite his overwhelming puniness.
Given the development of the character through to the movie’s finale, it is clear that this was done so that the emotional changes for Andrew would be as big as possible – the biggest possible arc from A to B. While such extremes don’t really seem necessary, they do still prove successful.
Thankfully, just before you give up on the guy, the “encounter” happens and he finally stops whining.
And so, we get to the special effects. Again, I’d heard some criticism in this area, but I found them (for the most part) to be convincing and well executed. Certainly considering the $12 million budget. OK, there’s a scene where Andrew crushes a car that looks VERY CGI and there are one or two cases of the camera through which we’re viewing events being visible in a mirror … and we see the camera remaining still as the shot pans … but I think we can let those slide as things that would have just proved too expensive and time-consuming to fix in post production.
Once the characters powers are revealed, we start to get to the real meat of the plot. The mysteries start to pile up – the nosebleeds, the connection between the three of them and the origins and extent of their powers. In a pretty brave move, most of these are not answered by the end of the movie. The nosebleeds are fairly obvious – but the others are hardly addressed at all. It is at this point that it really starts to feel like a superhero origin movie.
Spiderman was bitten by that pesky radioactive spider. Superman was forced away from his home planet to a place whose bright yellow sun made him the Man Of Steel. These three guys – Andrew, his cousin Matt and Matt’s friend Steve – go into a mysterious, glowing hole in the ground, find a bunch of lights … and emerge with telekinetic powers.
In many ways, I was reminded of Kick-Ass and the way that character discovered his “ability” (in his case, a lack of response to pain stimulus) and decided how to live with it. Of course, within the plot of Chronicle, our heroes are far from super. They may learn to control their new-found powers in order to exhibit feats of great strength, to fly up in the clouds and to resist punches and even bullets (sound familiar?) … but it doesn’t even occur to them to go out and fight crime. In fact, what they do for at least the first month is hide their powers from everyone.
This feels more realistic (as far as it can feel realistic, given the science fiction subject matter), and that realism is helped by the continued use of hand held cameras to document their experiences. The same goes for when they first actually display their powers in public. They do it at a talent contest, masquerading as a magic act!
As we move to the third act though, Andrew’s state of mind is deteriorating as his powers grow stronger and we seem to switch gears pretty violently into an action movie. Up to this point, we’ve been very much in the heads of our characters, even taking in the several philosophical references from Matt. However, all of that is dropped in a nanosecond and Andrew dons the closest thing he has to a superhero costume – his dad’s old firefighter uniform – and goes on the rampage for cash for his mother’s medicine!
This move puzzled me slightly. OK, his state of mind is unbalanced. I get that. But the decision to go out robbing people and stores seems pretty stupid to me, given his powers! Why not just stand across the road from a store and yank their tills right out from under their cashiers noses? Why not find a few ATM’s and use his powers to break away the front panel to get at the thousands of dollars inside?
Well, without his ridiculous choice, the setup for the finale would have needed a lot more work. I guess that will have to be reason enough. By this time, Andrew has realized that even his incredible new powers can’t magically fix the most important things in his life. His mother is still dying. His father is still a drunk. He still has no one that he considers to be a real friend. The jocks at school still hate him. The girls at school still think he’s a joke. And to make matters worse, he’s caused the death of one of his new allies and alienated the other! All of that frustration and anger returns with a vengeance, only this time he has the power to do something about it.
So we come to the extended fight sequence. This comes across as something that would be more suited to the final reel of a Spiderman movie than to what we’ve been watching so far. However, the news, CCTV and camera-phone footage used to provide our coverage is one of the most successful devices of the whole film and saves what could have been a pretty disastrous finale. I think they did a great job in keeping the coverage of the fight realistic rather than going all out for the smashing and crashing finales we’ve come to expect from the likes of Michael Bay. It avoids the many and varied traps of the modern blockbuster and – just about – manages to stay within the overall tone of Chronicle.
Finally, the epilogue. We follow Matt to Tibet where the Superman references begin again! Amongst the snow and ice, is Matt going to use his new powers to build his very own Fortress Of Solitude? He states full out that he will try to use his powers to help people and as I’ve mentioned already, the powers gained by the three main characters develop to be very similar to those of Superman. But instead of coming across as obvious and annoying, these references feel almost in homage to Superman; a nod to the fans of comic books and their adaptations that will no doubt be drawn to see this movie.
The question that hangs in the air as the credits roll though, is “Are we to expect a sequel?” Well, given the not-so-cryptic comments director Josh Trank has made in several interviews, I think the answer to that is certainly “Yes”. In response, I can only echo his own sentiments in saying that, if it does happen, let’s hope it’s as good as its predecessor.
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