Movie Review: Chronicle
By Matthew Huntley
February 6, 2012
Chronicle is not a superhero movie in the traditional sense, although it certainly adheres to its fair share of the formula. It’s also a dark and grounded coming-of-age drama, a trait that actually refreshes its superhero elements. It’s thoughtful, succinct and well-acted, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it lays any new ground. By the end, it relinquishes its edge in favor of a perfunctory fight sequence, which, although well executed, is something we’ve seen before. Still, at least it was taking things in a different direction.
The movie is yet another example in a long line that employs the found-footage style of shooting (hence the title). We follow around Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a high school senior and social outcast who lives with his dying mother (Bo Petersen) and drunk, abusive father (Michael Kelly). Andrew is shy and introverted - the type of kid who’s either made fun of or simply ignored by his peers. It’s no wonder he buys a video camera and starts taping everything (this is the one way he can distinguish himself and observe the world more closely), and this is how we see most of the movie. He records everything from his rides to school with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) to a barn party on the outskirts of downtown Seattle.
It’s in the neighboring woods of the party where Andrew, Matt and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the most popular kid in school, come upon a mysterious underground cave. What they find inside I’ll not reveal, but days later each discovers he has telekinetic powers. At first, they use their newfound gifts to goof around and move everyday objects like baseballs and Legos. Then they start to pull practical jokes on the locals and learn their powers are getting stronger. However, as we can imagine, they don’t come without consequences, and I’m not just talking about the nose bleeds. A kid like Andrew has a lot of pent up rage and hostility, and you don’t want them to get the better of him, not when he has superhuman abilities.
In many (obvious) ways, Chronicle follows the same trajectory as any number of superhero movies (the Andrew-Matt relationship is easily comparable to Magneto and Professor Xavier from X-Men), but what sets it apart are its grounded locations and characters. The setting isn’t a romanticized Metropolis or New York City, but the normal, everyday suburbs of Seattle where non-movie star looking people live. These places aren’t bright, glamorous or highly attractive; and the scenes that take place in the public stores and high school stem from truth instead of fantasy. The movie is observant and I noticed things as detailed as the dirt and scuff marks on the walls of Andrew’s house; the trash lining the curb of his neighborhood where local ne’er-do-wells hang out and cuss; and the cold, wet weather that undoubtedly affects peoples’ moods.
The director, Josh Trank, is geared toward mixing the incredible with the everyday and key to the film’s success is that we believe the way Andrew, Matt and Steve react to their abilities. Think about it: if you suddenly discovered you had telekinetic powers, you would probably start out small and see what things around the house you could control with your mind. You would then work your way up, although not without some form of reluctance and trepidation, and once you learned how to fly with your friends, you’d probably take a moment to tell them it was the best day of your life. It’s these scenes, which are well written and performed, that make Chronicle stand out.
Given the rawness and credibility of the movie up until its final act, I would have preferred a less conventional ending, which boils down to a fight and feels pulled right out of Superman II; although I did appreciate the authenticity of the passersby’s reactions to the events taking place around them. What happens on-screen is inherently exciting, and the special effects are seamless and convincing, but because the movie started out on such a grounded level, I was hoping it would maintain that tone and further de-mystify the idea of actually having superpowers instead of merely paying heed to the traditional rules and regulations.
With that said, the conclusion is adequate and I came away from the movie believing I had met real, ordinary people who developed extraordinary gifts. The filmmakers blurred the line between fantasy and reality effectively and I wouldn’t be surprised if Chronicle started a new trend for the ubiquitous (and immensely popular) superhero genre, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.