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February 6, 2012

Lately audiences have been craving realism in their art. This desire can be seen in the rise of attendance for Superhero films which have become increasingly dark and dramatic in the past few years. Superhero movies are no longer glamorously flamboyant; instead they are much more serious and focus on the dark nature of being a Superhero. Realism in fantasy has even seeped over into television series as shows centered around humans with extraordinary powers now focus mostly on how the characters adapt to having power and responsibility as well as what paths they choose. NBC’s semi-hit Heroes took the corporate secret agent route while the BBC took the humorously fanciful route with their brilliantly written show Misfits. These shows are among the many that have depicted the answer to the question, “what happens if normal people gain super human abilities?”

Director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis take a fresh and interesting take on that answer in Chronicle, a story of three high school students who after searching around in an abandoned cave discover they have unbelievable super powers. The story unfolds all thanks to Andrew, (Dane DeHaan) a lonely outcast who decides to start filming his everyday life partly as a witness to the abuses he undergoes on a daily basis from his alcoholic, out of work father and the taunting he receives from his peers at school, but mostly Andrew records for the comfort of shielding himself from his surroundings. Upon being pushed by his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and school mate Stephen (Michael B. Jordan) to record a supersonic wave of sound coming from underground the boys venture inside the cave, their return results in them collectively gaining the ability to move and manipulate objects with their minds. As the filming continues, audiences witness not only the boy’s growing strength of their powers but also the differing dynamics and desires of each one and how their powers affect them individually.

Despite having the same elements as previous films before it, Chronicle is refreshingly new and original. Many will initially compare it to Cloverfield or a slew of other films adapting the common motif of found footage first-person narrative. However, unlike its contemporaries Chronicle does a great job of telling an extensive story from first person POV with detailed and convenient plot turns that attempt to clarify major elements of its narrative. The film opens with Andrew deciding to start taping his life in order to partly expose his father’s abusive alcoholism but perhaps mostly as a constant reminder that his life blows. The look of the film is gritty, shaky and almost sickening from the rough movement, however, after his camera is lost underground Andrew continues to shoot on a newer compact digital camera that results in more flattering shots of warm lighting, smoother motion, and precise edits. For a while the film is interesting and engaging as the boys began to learn more about the range of their abilities and the limits they must place on it as well as still confronting the problems of everyday life. Chronicle delivers a slew of impressive shots, unpredictable moments, and shocking plot advances that make for a great ride.

Yet about halfway into the film, the story begins to snowball into an inconsistent shallow mess. While Landis’ screenplays exhibits his strengths in writing such as creating genuine moments of the boys involved in humorous douchebaggery, it also lays out his weaknesses when it comes to overall development as much of Chronicle plays out like a student film. Conversations are at times forced and stale in order to get back-story and Andrew’s “woe is me” life fails to promote sympathy because he’s such an unlikable, whiny character. The actors try really hard and viewers can tell but it’s what comes out of their mouths that unconvincing and cheesy.

Chronicle’s inconsistencies become distracting especially if you’re a stickler like myself who notices edits. I respect Trank’s attempt to roundly explain how certain scenes are shot from different angles or have moving fluid tracking shots as Andrew’s obsession with the camera allows him to start controlling it without hands, however too many scenes involve shots from various cameras or varying angles that are not explained or even necessary. The continuity errors could have been prevented had the film just dropped the “found footage” angle and shot it as an old school third person narrative.

If I were still in college taking a “Theory and Criticism” class, and had free range to write about social commentary in film I’d most definitely choose Chronicle for its seemingly strong comments on this generation’s dependence on technology for an easy A. In fact, most of Chronicle feels like it was a film student’s thesis— a good thesis but amateur overall. Cameras are such an important part of the film that it feels forced. Chronicle almost gracefully integrates Andrew’s obsession with feeling acceptance from his camera’s presence and the way the film is shot but doesn’t quite nail it. Decisions like showing Andrew’s ability to control the camera free of hands works for the film, but repeatedly showing shots of him lying in bed or sitting in solitude with the camera focused on him adds nothing to the film but shallow moments.

In one scene, Matt tells Andrew that his problem will be his own hubris. Andrew asks him what that means, to which Matt mocks him thinking Andrew is being sarcastic. The scene transitions to an unrelated scene before the answer can be revealed. Ironically Chronicle’s biggest problem is its own hubris. For anyone who doesn’t remember high school English, hubris in literature is the downfall of a character due to their own arrogance. The film quickly shifts from an engaging story of three high school kids dealing with having extraordinary powers to your average battle between good and evil with no redemption or catharsis at the end. The film starts to focus too much on the bigger picture of duality causing the film’s climax to become an over the top mess. The famed literary character Oedipus Rex realizes his own hubris has caused him to kill his father and sleep with his mother. In the climax of the story Oedipus gouges his own eyes after discovering his deeds. This type of cathartic revelation can’t be said for characters in Chronicle. The characters aren’t given the chance to redeem themselves or even learn from their own mistakes, making most of film’s story pointless.

In author Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Breakfast of Champions, a painter is hated in a town because his painting, (which they all describe as one that could have been done by a 5-year-old) was bought for thousands of dollars by the city. Vonnegut allows the artist to defend himself by retorting to his fellow haters that before his painting no one had done it, now that his painting exists he encourages all 5-year olds to do a better version. That’s the same feeling I got from Chronicle. While its overall execution is weak and it could have been a much better film, it’s an original and is done like nothing before it. It is not a film I’d watch over again if it were up to me, but despite being disappointed by my own expectations I still enjoyed the overall experience and can only hope for much better development in stories like it.

SEE IT. Just to say you did, it’s not great but it’s not bad either.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Hotep permalink
    April 13, 2014 10:21 PM

    Chronicle is GOLD! You obviously hate true art.

    • April 13, 2014 10:30 PM

      Lol I’d be interested to watch it again honestly. I want to say that it was my expectations at the time that made me disappointed with Chronicle, then I re-read the review I remember why I thought it was cheesy, though I respect what it was trying to do.

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