Chronicle (2012)

10 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Chronicle” mixes a superhero origin story with a teenage coming-of-age drama and presents it in a first-person perspective. If that doesn’t sound like an ambitious project, I don’t know what does. “Chronicle” is a well-made movie, and it was thoroughly entertaining. Just when I thought I was getting tired of the first-person perspective (I’ve seen it in “Blair Witch Project,” “Cloverfield,” “District 9,” every episode of “The Office,” and don’t get me started on the “Paranormal Activity” series), “Chronicle” sneaked up on me. I say this because I avoided the trailers and TV spots for this movie and knew hardly anything of the plot, except that it was played as if it was actually documented and there was a poster that looked like a kid was giving a thundercloud the middle finger. I wasn’t anxious to see this movie, but I did the immature thing and gave in to peer pressure. What I saw was a film that has a lot more on its mind than you might expect.

The film’s story is seen through a video camera, though not just the main character’s camera. Sometimes, we see through a v-logger’s camera, and other times, we see through surveillance cameras or any camera that comes into the scene. The film stars a high school senior named Andrew (Dane DeHaan), who is shy, awkward, and standoffish. Girls ignore him, jerks pick on him, and he only has one friend—his popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell). Also, his mother is dying and he’s the constant punching bag of an abusive father who drinks a lot. Andrew has bought a video camera and documents his home life and his high school, though really that makes him even more awkward.

Matt brings Andrew to a rave party, where they and another kid—Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the big man on campus running for class president—stumble across a hole in the ground nearby. It’s circular, seems to tunnel underground, and gets deeper and deeper as the three boys explore.

Now, would you step into something like that? I didn’t think so.

But they do, and Andrew brings along his camera. They come across a strange object, which, because it glows, may give the possibility that it’s alien. The boys are exposed to a kind of force that destroys Andrew’s camera. But luckily, Andrew buys a new camera and we see that a few days have gone by and the boys suddenly possess powers of the mind. They throw baseballs at each other’s chests so they can stop them in mid-air before they get hit. They build a tower out of their Legos without touching them. They start a leaf blower to lift up cheerleaders’ skirts. They play pranks in a department store (like bringing a teddy bear to life in front of a little girl). They can even move themselves up in the air!

They have a lot of fun with their new talents and behave like teenagers while fiddling with them because…they are teenagers. But these kids have no adult mentors (as most superhero stories do) to tell them how to use their powers responsibly. However, Matt decides to lay down some rules after Andrew’s irresponsibility nearly kills someone. This is the start of the dark, disturbing plot thread that follows Andrew’s tortured personal life to something really dangerous. Later in the movie, after being humiliated at a party, he addresses to the camera that he’s evolved into something better than he was and the way he feels about hurting a person leaves him with the same lack of remorse after killing a bug. He thinks of it as natural selection.

The first half of “Chronicle” is the most fun part of the movie. It has fun with these kids experimenting with these new powers and gaining more from them, such as when they realize they can soar through the air together. There are a lot of laughs, particularly with the one-liners the kids spew and the constant mishaps that occur when first testing their powers. My favorite scene is when Andrew and Steve perform at a talent show, showing off their powers, pretending to perform magic tricks, and wowing everyone in the process. But then the movie develops into something more deep and dark that comes mainly from Andrew’s slowly but surely loss of innocence. One tragedy leads to certain danger and that leads to a total mental breakdown. With someone of his abilities, that can’t be good.

“Chronicle” may be inconsistent that way—different second half in contrast to the second—but the second half is admittedly very strong. It shows Andrew’s problems in a convincing way and when you think about it, there are moments in the first half that do lead to what Andrew could be capable of. I remember Andrew always learning his powers faster than Matt and Steve can because he focuses the hardest, and when he records himself with his camera (while moving the camera in the air and letting it hover in his bedroom), he ponders. Now we’re aware what he was thinking about doing all along. We see some of his home life when he’s not fooling around with his friends, and it is enough to show the pain he goes through, what with his ailing mother and his jerk of a father.

Give credit to the director—newcomer Josh Trank—and the writer—also-newcomer Matt Landis, John Landis’s son—for making these kids seem like actual teenagers and behaving like they would behave if they were suddenly telekinetic. I believed these young actors were living their characters and I felt their excitement. But I suppose that could also be because of the first-person perspective, seeing things through the video camera’s point of view. And to keep things from being repetitive, “Chronicle” beat the problem by showing things through the view of other cameras, particularly the camera belonging to a cute blogger named Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), whom Matt has a bit of a crush on. This works especially well in a conversation scene—we first see through Casey’s camera to see Matt talking (while he has Andrew’s camera), then through the other camera to see Casey as she talks. And using other cameras for perspective works especially well in the film’s explosive climax in which Andrew completely loses his sanity and lets out all of his rage onto public property and unlucky people.

So, from goofing around comes deep trouble. But isn’t that what would happen if a troubled teenager really did gain mind powers and decide not to use them responsibly? Not that it could happen, but what if? That’s why the first-person perspective tells this story—to give a great kind of “what-if” tale. What have I left out of this review? Only the effects. The special effects used to make objects float and make the kids fly are downright first-rate. They look extremely convincing and make the production values even more impressive. To wrap this up, even if “Chronicle” switches gears, it has a lot of fun before doing so.

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