“Chronicle” is the story of three teen friends who discover some sort of glowing alien artifact within an underground tunnel. After a brief period admiring it, they’re overcome in some psionic fashion, succumbing to unconsciousness. When they awake, they find themselves endowed with burgeoning telekinetic abilities.
The object is not addressed afterwards… on their return to the site, the tunnel has been filled in. But the object is not the focus of the movie, it’s simply the catalyst.
Instead, what we have is the story of three young men suddenly infused with super-powers. How they would use them, how they would feel about them, and how they would keep things together between the three of them when their philosophies began to diverge.
To me, the strength of “Chronicle” is the believability with which the three teens begin to explore their powers. Unlike other super-power films, there’s no discussion of the greater good, no debates about how they have to help others… these guys mess with people’s heads and lift up chicks’ skirts. Those certainly aren’t the noblest pursuits, but to me, they’re highly credible. If some magic moon rock had imbued me with telekinesis as a teen that’s exactly what I’d have been doing…
Each of the three comes from a different high school social strata. The popular jock, the aloof intellectual, and the brooding loner. Obviously, such an event would form a strong bond between the three people involved, and the movie develops their friendship nicely.
As their powers grow, they take giddy delight in exploring them. Especially once they learn how to fly. The flying scenes in this movie have some of the best flight scene moments ever put to film. I wouldn’t call them the best flying scenes, perhaps, but they’re certainly in the debate. That said, there are some moments during those scenes where it’s just a breathtaking depiction of what it would be like to be able to fly…
Of course, with great power comes… great power. And power has a corrupting influence, which then becomes the central plot of the film. As their powers grow, Andrew, the loner, begins to lose patience with keeping his abilities a secret and rejects the notion that he shouldn’t be using them to his benefit. The movie has established him as a sympathetic character… he’s being abused by his stepfather at home, and bullied by his classmates at school. And so his gradual descent to the dark side is supportable from a character perspective, and also something the audience will be emotionally invested in.
So he begins to show off, explores petty crime, and eventually gets completely out of control… going on a rampage through the city of Seattle, as promised in the trailers. And it’s quite a sequence, too. The special effects are credible, the battle is well scripted and the fact that the two combatants are close friends keeps everything personal.
As strong as certain elements are though, the movie has an enormous flaw. The “found footage” style.
I haven’t always been a hater of the found footage style. When it first came out, I thought it was novel, the camerawork never bothered me, and I actually thought it worked well narratively at times. For example, the “Paranormal Activity” movies are a perfect fit for that type of film. You know WHY the camera is part of the story. Here though, it works much to the movie’s discredit. Scenes that should be marveled over for their special effects work (and the special effects were very good) are poorly shot, you get jerky glimpses or miss what you want to see entirely. Plus, there were several instances when I found myself wondering “Why would they be filming this right now?” or, “the camera is still with them?” Times when it simply didn’t make sense that they would be recording what’s happening.
It also may be extremely unfair to the film, but as many of you know, I’ve been studying “The Shining” this week for my impending Lambcast appearance. Contrasting the meticulous shot construction that Kubrick used to this herky jerky, seemingly “just record whatever you want” style of movie just made my stomach turn a little. I realize that the choice was probably made due to budgetary constraints, but this script and the young actors were strong enough that it left me pining for a remake that was traditionally shot.
It remains a strong movie, however. Very entertaining, passably acted, and with some occasionally great visual effects. The theme of having super-powers weren’t as well explored as the movie would like you to think – “X-Men: First Class” does a far superior job – but they toy with it at least. In the end you have a buddy comedy loaded with action that turns to a more traditional super-hero battle movie towards the end.
I just wish it was supported by stronger film-making.