Saturday, 4 February 2012

Review: Chronicle

Year: 2012
Director: Josh Trank
Screenplay: Max Landis
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, and Alex Russell

Warning: I will not be too specific about certain plot elements, however, spoilers are bound.

Synopsis is here

Chronicle is great fun. In fact at times it's pretty awesome. I mean this in the traditional definition, as opposed to the casual modern trend. The films spectacle actually brought forth a certain amount of amazement. I was in no way expecting it. Particularly from a film, which had only been described to me as "the found footage superhero movie". Such quick branding is correct but almost gives a disservice to a film which confidently melds elements of Superman, Spideman, Cloverfield, and Ginger Snaps (or maybe the breakfast club) into one entertaining mass.

It follows the typical beats of the super hero movie, but it doesn't feel derivative. Far from it. If Cloverfield was to tailor fit Godzilla for the YouTube generation, then Chronicle feels like the extremely snug super hero costume for the same people. Establishing the characters quickly and solidly, the film does well to try and combat the some of the issues that come with the found footage sub-genre. We are given a withdrawn character; Andrew (DeHaan) who decides to place his focus into documenting what he can see, if nothing else for himself. It's clear that it keeps him occupied from all the tragic elements that haunt his life. He states that; it "creates a barrier", between himself and what's happening within him and the other characters. Not only does it help detail the obsession with filming, but you can sense the trouble brewing from such statements.

But before then, we see and sense the fun. As these three fast friends, discover an artefact that given them extraordinary powers, we watch them jerk about with them in a way that only teens would. In a way that we would in the same circumstance. They learn and discover more and we are reminded of that same thrill that Peter Parker had in Spiderman. While it doesn't have the same exhilaration that Tobey Maguire infused, when he first got bitten by that bitch of a spider, it's still in the same ballpark.

Yet, in the same way we would lark about if we had powers (if only I could control gravity), Chronicle realises it's that real life would get in the way just easily. As the trios powers grow, so do their issues. The film cleverly mirrors adolescence and home problems with the increasing abilities. Andrew whose background is already shrouded in darkness (dying mother, booze father) begins to fall into his own egoism.
The philosophical aspects of Schopenhauer, briefly noted in the beginning of the film start to come into play and the tension and spectacle rises. To quote Nietzsche: "If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you." Andrew seems to be staring more intently than Anakin.

The film rolls at a great pace, with deeper characterisation and better story telling than bigger films within the same genre. It's almost embarrassing looking at how effective this movie is in comparison to the likes of The Green Lantern, which could struggled to even establish why we should be watching Ryan Reynolds making huge green fists. The effects are not up to Transformers standard, but the investment of what's going on allows us to overlook this. Chronicle does build to an effective and power crescendo which bypassed my admittedly low expectations and provided something that was really quite thrilling.

It's not without it's flaws. The film, like many found footage features, can't full shake off the restraints of the sub-genre. It's clear to see when the film is providing us with establishing shots that wouldn't be part of the characters concern. The film's final third is greatly entertaining but also forgets at times it's meant to be user utilized content. Also, some of the plot points not only has a distinct smell of the magical negro, but also highlight a small issue with some of the mechanics of the film.

For the most part however, Chronicle sets it's sights as a film that could gain cult status. It plays with superhero story effectively and is solidly entertaining throughout. The makers of all the next generation of upcoming comic adaptations, could do little harm with checking out what this does right.