Dane DeHaan in Chronicle.
I was pleasantly surprised by Chronicle. A low budget superhero movie, featuring a cast of fairly unknown actors, a director whose only previous direction experience was on cable television, being released in the dead of winter doesn't exactly inspire confidence. And yet, the end result is a fast paced, entertaining action movie about which my only real complaint is the filming technique.
The plot tells the story of three high-school seniors, cousins Andrew and Matt and their friend Steve, from Seattle who gain the power of telekinesis after discovering a hole in the ground that contains some sort of crystal. Just what was in the hole or why it gave them this power isn't explained, but it hardly matters. They have fun with the power at first, playing practical jokes and discovering that they can fly by moving themselves with their mind. Andrew, who comes from a dysfunctional home where his mother is dying and his father is an abusive alcoholic, is the Carrie figure of the story. Picked on at school and at home, he starts to use his powers more aggressively, which leads to a final showdown between him and Matt in a climactic battle over downtown Seattle and the Space Needle.
My one and only real complaint is the filming technique. It is one of those "found-footage" movies that tries to appear as if it were edited together from cameras within the story. Andrew starts the movie by turning on a camera that he plans on using to film his life, using it as a barrier between himself and the rest of the world. We also witness scenes through the camera of Casey, Matt's girlfriend, as well as security cameras and finally news cameras as they cover the final battle. I assume this was done because of the limited budget. During certain big special effects moments, the camera can go out of focus or witness the action from far away or be dropped so that we only hear the action. It's a technique that has been used in the Paranormal Activity series as well as last year's horrible Apollo 18. Please don't get me wrong. Chronicle is much better than either of those movies, I'm just not a fan of this technique. Although to be fair to the filmmakers, at least they're not trying to make you believe the events of this movie actually took place.
While the three teens aren't well known, having mostly worked on different television shows, they do a decent job. As in almost every Hollywood movie they are all way too old to be playing high schoolers, but you just have to accept that. With just a slight tweak to the script they could have just as easily made them college students. Also presumably to keep the budget down, the cast is very small with only six main characters.
There have been so many superhero movies in the past few years that they're starting to feel repetitive and unoriginal. This one though, while containing some of the usual trappings of an origin story, also manages to feel fresh and different. In this respect the small budget works in its favor. It feels less polished and less as if it's trying to be a major motion picture event. There is no megalomaniac super villain trying to take over or destroy the world. Although obviously containing fantastical elements, it does manage to feel more realistic than your average superhero movie.
Although it ends in a satisfying manner, it does leave room for a sequel. I'd be interested in seeing it, but I wonder if a bigger budget and a taste of success will damage the balance and freshness. If one does get made, I just hope they leave the found footage out of it.
Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan and Dane Dehaan in Chronicle
The "home" movie as a "real" movie has become it's own genre. Ever since The Blair Witch Project (1999), these types of films have popped up all over the place. Scott mentioned a couple, while I will add Trollhunter (2010) from Norway. Like Chronicle, it has the found film gimmick as well as plenty of CGI. The problem facing these film makers is how to legitimately film every scene and make it plausible. Blair Witch and Trollhunter did it by having the main characters filming a documentary, therefore the excuse for having a camera around is easily justified.
Here we have a picked on teenager named Andrew, who decides to record his sad life. The first scene has him using the camera as a means to protect himself from his abusive father, telling him he is recording his outburst from the other side of the door to scare him away. He then decides to take the camera with him every where he goes. It is a weak excuse, but the best they could come up with. Scott mentioned the use of hospital security cameras and even Matt's girlfriend seems to want to film everything. In one ridiculous scene, she answers the door and for some reason immediately asks the visiting Matt, if he minds if she records him.
If you can get past the fact that every important event just happened to get filmed, one way or another, then you will discover a very decent action film with some surprisingly good special effects. The boys playing football in the clouds is fairly good and they did think to put the guys in jackets as the temp at that height is much colder than on the ground. Based on the quality of the special effects and the fact that this was filmed in Canada, South Africa and Seattle, its budget was clearly larger than it aspires to present.
The dialogue is nothing to brag about. What passes for a joke is when the three boys are flying and Matt says, "Andrew, don't fart; we'll never find you again!" Most of the lines seem written by someone still in high school, who never made it to AP English, "Andrew! Andrew, look at me! This has to stop right now, okay? This is really, really bad. What happened to you?" You could argue that this realistically represents the mentality of teenage boys, but since they say some of these lines while flying, realism is hardly a sound argument. The movie's best line is also a nod to its own flaw. When going to a party, Andrew brings his camera along and as they arrive says sarcastically, "Wow, look! A rave!" This cues Matt to add, "Oh wow, look! A nerd with a camera!"
Oops, with great power comes great responsibility.
Right from the opening scene Chronicle entertains. I wanted to know more about the three main boys. The budding friendship between the two cousins and Steve becomes a strong bond as they discover their newly acquired powers together. Of course, as Scott wrote, just what was down in that cave and just how it manifests itself in a form of telekinesis is never explained. But it hardly matters as the film moves quickly and tells a fairly intriguing story.
The best thing about Chronicle is the veracity with which it is presented. These kids act like real boys would. Eric, I think the fact that they speak like average teenagers adds to the realism of the story. They are real kids with fantastic abilities. Sure the fact that they can fly is unbelievable but that's what makes the movie work, imagining ourselves in their situation. How many of us, when we were younger, daydreamed about doing the things these boys can do?
Like my brothers I'm no fan of the found-footage, pseudo-documentary movie genre spawned by Blair Witch and imitated in many other films. But here I didn't mind it so much. After a while I forgot about it altogether and found myself simply enjoying the story. The pacing is great. They use their powers to play pranks on unsuspecting people at the grocery store, followed quickly by a mishap where Andrew nearly kills someone in a car he forces off the road (see photo). From here the story escalates nicely towards the big final confrontation between Andrew and Matt that wreaks havoc on downtown Seattle.
This is the type of superhero movie the big studios should be making. It has originality (it's not a remake or sequel for one thing) and it isn't trying to be a 2½ hour epic. As much as I enjoyed Chronicle on the limited budget they had to work with, I can only imagine what a big budget version would look like. If they had dropped the self-filmed angle and had slightly better special effects this could have been a classic.
Photos © Copyright Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation (2012)