Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Director: Josh Trank
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan
Whilst attending a party, three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery underground. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.
This is a movie where the trailer did not impress me at all and I had really little interest in seeing this movie. While I have been waiting a very long time for any kind of original superhero film that’s not based on a comic, I was angry that when one came along it was a found footage film and seemed to have the most unlikable bunch of characters I’d ever seen. In fact, this is what I actually had to say about the trailer in that week’s edition of Trailer Park:
Alex Jowski: I’ve always looked forward to an original superhero film that isn’t based on pre-existing comics of tv shows. Heck, I even wrote a screenplay for one once. So this movie had the potential to be something new – but it’s doing EVERY GODDAMN THING incorrectly. First off, every character is some douchebag drenched in Axe body spray – how the hell are you supposed to tell a good superhero story when every fucking character is trying to out douche Chris Evans’ take on The Human Torch? Second, FUCKING FOUND FOOTAGE! Whatever happened to a traditional narrative? FUCK ME! I want to see a story, goddamnit, not a gang of douchebag “bros” playing with a camcorder.
However, the film started getting great reviews. Most of the reviews I read come from online sources such as bloggers. I’ve always found online critics to be a lot more honest about a movie’s quality versus your professional, well known critics. The general consensus I received from the internet was that Chronicle was a movie worth seeing. So I decided to check it out (on a Sunday matinee – have to save some money). To my surprise, Chronicle was really not so bad.
Most of the film revolves around high school senior Andrew Detmer, played by newcomer Dane DeHaan. This kid looked, sounded and acted exactly like a post Star Wars Mark Hamil. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Mark Hamil’s a talented guy. Andrew is a loner, picked on by his classmates, living at home with his dying mother and abusive, alcoholic father. Andrew gets himself a video camera and starts taping everything because…. well he never really says why, he just says that he’s doing it. The closest thing he has to a friend is his cousin Matt (Alex Russell). Matt drags Andrew along to a rave out at a barn where the two of them, along with student body presidential candidate Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) happen to find a hole in the ground. The implore Andrew to follow them with the camera to record whatever it is they find in the hole. This turns out to be some sort of other-worldly crystal that suddenly gives them all telekinetic powers.
Now if there is ever a kid whose life would benefit from having these powers, it’s Andrew. Looking at this from a superhero origin point-of-view, Andrew’s life makes poor little Peter Parker look like nothing. No friends – a dying mother – an abusive father; I really felt bad for this kid. Now he’s got these telekinetic powers while Matt and Steve become the closest friends he’s ever had. The first half of the movie is simply boys being boys. They play practical jokes on others using these powers, practical jokes on each other, fly around the skies over Seattle and they generally just hang out and have a good time. In fact there’s really not a story here at all – just some slow character development. Still, it is enjoyable character development – even if it is in the ridiculous confines of a found footage movie.
Things change when Steve invites Andrew to perform at the school talent show. Using his new powers, Andrew stuns the audience and becomes the popular kid for the night – especially when he uses these powers to kick ass at Beer Pong. He gets to go to the big party, get drunk and even hooks up with a cute girl. Unfortunately, eager nerves and alcohol cause Andrew to vomit on the girl which now leaves Andrew as the humilated laughing stock of the school. This is where the movie starts to go all Carrie. In fact here’s a list of similarities between the two characters.
1. High school student with telekinetic powers
2. A target of ridicule by peers
3. Undesirable home life
4. Brief acceptance by peers which is immediately followed by
5. Humiliation at a major high school event
Of course there is a MAJOR difference between the two. Carrie’s revenge was an immediate reaction to a lifetime of abuse. Andrew’s vengeance is slow and methodical. There is a moment, and it was my favorite moment of the movie, where Andrew sits in a junkyard, rationalizing with the camera why he can use his powers against others. He sees himself as the Apex Predator – the top of the evolutionary ladder. “A Lion doesn’t feel guilty when it kills a gazelle. You don’t feel guilty when you smash a fly. I think that means something.” To punctuate his point he crushes a car with the power of his mind.
He starts by yanking some teeth out of a classmate and then discussing with himself how he did this. Andrew finally uses his powers to stand up to his abusive father. Determined to get the money for his mother’s medication, Andrew dons a fireman’s suit and starts robbing drug dealers and convenience stores. This results in the fiery destruction of a gas station (that happened in Carrie too btw!). The movie doesn’t end there as this is only the beginning of the movie’s exciting climax.
Overall, a pretty enjoyable film. The characters were not nearly the unlikable bunch I had expected from the trailer. Dane DeHaan is a talented actor and Andrew was a fascinating character – I was eager to see how his story played out. The other characters were “okay.” Steve was a nice guy and all but mostly pretty bland. Same thing with Matt – who was a high school kid whose initial scene was getting high in the school parking lot while discussing the writings Schoppenhaur and Karl Jung. Yeah, I didn’t like Matt so much.
The only major complaint I have about this movie is that it was so unnecessarily done in this found footage style. Any other found footage film, from Cannibal Holocaust to The Blair With Project to Paranormal Activity provided at least SOME reason why the characters were taping everything, whether it was for a documentary or just to get some events on camera. With Chronicle there as no such premise. Sure, Andrew says at one point “We need to document this!” but he was already recording everything before they got their powers and if he’s documenting their powers why does he record the incidental stuff in between? Why do we get footage from other people’s cameras and why are they recording everything. One girl says she’s taping stuff for her blog – but we end up with a LOT of footage from her camera that would ultimately make the most boring blog ever. At the climax of the film, Chronicle seems to forget that it’s a found footage film at all as we have cameras EVERYWHERE taping EVERYTHING at the perfect angle, whether it be a grandiose aerial shot or an emotional close-up. Director Josh Trank seems to know what to do with a camera as most everything is captured well enough, shots are framed perfectly to draw out the emotional need in each scene. However, since it is a found footage film we end up with annoying “shaky cam” sometimes as well as not really seeing our characters as much as would be needed in a character driven drama. Ultimately there is NO reason this had to be a found footage piece at all and would really have benefited from having just a traditional visual narrative.
Still, Chronicle was a fun film. I look forward to seeing whatever Josh Trank and writer Max Landis come out with next. Unless it’s Chronicle 2 because it really does not lend itself to a sequel at ALL! In fact, there had better NOT be a Chronicle 2 or I would be pissed off.