Chronicle is a film about three high school seniors who stumble upon a mysterious substance in a hole in a field then discover they have acquired telekinetic powers. After seeing the trailer for this movie I thought it was going to be abysmal garbage. The trailer portrays it as a suspenseful bastard child of “The Blair Witch Project” and “X-Men” staring B movie actors. I obviously saw this movie because I love ripping apart bad movies.
But it wasn’t terrible. I wouldn’t even call it bad, per say. It was by no means brilliant, but it was fun, it was different. It’s a super “hero” movie that’s not based on a comic book or a cartoon, but is instead original material. And it was fun to watch and I found the characters very interesting and for the most part very engaging. The CGI was- well- the first word that comes to mind is passable. There were a few scenes where it could have been a little tighter, but over all it didn’t take me out of the story. And actually, I think I prefer “Chronicle” to “Green Lantern” and while I’m not certain, I’m willing to bet that “Green Lantern” had a much larger budget attached.
That being said, there are some issues, of course. Keeping in mind that I did like the movie and thought it was fun (obviously there are spoilers below):
The primary lead character is Andrew (played by Dane Dehaan), who is trying to deal with a dying mother, an abusive, alcoholic father, and not having any friends because he’s an unlikable prick. He obtains a camera and the footage presented to the audience is meant to be from his camera (for probably 90% of the film). Andrew, as you probably know if you’ve seen the trailer, goes a little Helter Skelter with his powers and starts hurting civilians. Andrew, his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and high school politician, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), acquire telekinetic powers (the ability to move things with their mind) together when they go into a hole with a big glowing ball (assumably an astroid, though it’s never addressed). The three develop a loose friendship around these powers, practicing their skills and working their “muscle”. Matt, a high school philosopher who happens to be in love with an apparent activist via video blogger, Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), tries to establish rules for their new found abilities when it becomes clear that Andrew can’t help hurting people with his. These rules are for conversation only, apparently, because one of the rules is that they won’t use their powers in front of people, then they enter the school talent show.
The film went to too much trouble trying to justify Andrew using his powers for evil instead of good. Humans are naturally hardwired to do what’s going to benefit them and to find the easiest way out of any discomfort, therefore it would likely only take a small personality quirk, for lack of a better word, to take that one step further. Psychopaths and sociopaths rarely have a reason to be the way they are, ie abuse, tragedy, etc. But, okay, the filmmaker didn’t want to make Andrew a certifiably mentally ill killer, okay. But don’t beat us over the head with it, it would have been easier to swallow if one of the issues was to blame, maybe his mom is ill and despite his best efforts he can’t seem to save her, and the rest of the world can’t seem to be bothered to either. The abusive father storyline was way too over the top, so much so that it would have been a far better movie if he didn’t have a father at all. But they chose to have an irrationally angry drunk character that was about as deep as a potted plant. So, the audience is expected to think that Andrew doesn’t care about anyone else because he feels like no one else cares about him, right. We got it after the first scene, we don’t need another four. They obviously wanted to make it clear that Andrew doesn’t have any friends, but there are so many other potential reasons why that could be. He could be shy (as he claims he is), he could be too busy taking care of his mom to cultivate relationships, he could be an incredibly nerdy kid that spends his time building robots out of trash, but instead he’s the least likable fictional character we’ve seen in a long time. He has a few clever lines, and we do feel sorry for him, but that’s really all he’s got going for him. Now I’m sure they don’t want the audience liking him and then being disappointed when he turns into a blood thirsty maniac, but really, it’s not any huge surprise that this kid doesn’t have friends, he’s an asshole.
Then, Andrew after having the shit beat out of him by his dad, kills Steve when he confronts him about it. Suddenly, we have a kid who has allegedly been beat on by this guy for awhile, who has so far only used his power twice to hurt other humans, “accidentally” a complete stranger and then in self defense against his abuser, then he kills his best friend. There isn’t any acceleration of his willingness to hurt. After killing Steve he kills a spider then rips the teeth out of someone at school. One would expect that he would start with the spider then his desire to even the field with his powers would increase, leading up to him killing his friend. But okay, it was an accident, we can set that aside. Plus they needed to get rid of one of the “good” guys, otherwise the other two could just team up on Andrew and take him out.
The relationship between Casey and Matt is pushed pretty hard throughout the film, but it just doesn’t work. It’s unnecessary, and it feels very forced and awkward. The characters have no energy between them, and we’re led to believe that Matt used to be a jerk, and that’s why Casey isn’t interested, but we never actually see him be a jerk, he’s actually rather nice most of the movie.
There are also obvious issues with human flight, the first one coming to mind is how would they breathe at altitude, but again, we can set these aside as a viewer because it’s a fictional movie, not a documentary about human flight, and because it’s a really awesome cool idea (to be able to fly around in the clouds). This suspension of disbelief is easy when, as a viewer, you’re engaged in what the characters are doing and you feel like you’re there as well.
It is extremely distracting for audiences (for me anyway) when actors try to be other actors. It is distracting and frankly annoying. I found that to be the case in this movie with both Andrew and Matt. Dane Dehaan seems to be channeling Leonardo DeCaprio ala “Marvin’s Room”, which has been done. Old news. If I wanted to see Leo in “Marvin’s Room” I would have watched it. This is beyond looks, it has to do with tone and motion and actions and mannerisms. Yes, Leo is a great actor, but you’ll go farther and do better if you set yourself apart instead of blending in. Then Alex Russell, well, imagine if James Franco and Ashton Kutcher had a baby. One could go through and point out characteristics in each screen shot of Alex and say “Ashton” “James” and sort them that way. At least his is a combination of two different people, and at least James Franco is a good actor. But again, instead of being invested in the film, I was thinking “Why is he acting like James Franco?”. Could this have been Josh Trank saying “I imagine a young Leo DeCaprio in this role” then directing Dane Dehaan in such a way to get a performance akin to Marvin’s Room? Absolutely. It doesn’t make it any less annoying though. Why cast actors if you’re not going to let them make their role their own? You could just use a robot, or clips from Marvin’s Room cut together with CGI in between.
Finally, my biggest pet peeve with this movie was the “found footage” aspect. Okay, it’s a tone they were aiming for, they thought it would add to the legitimacy of it, or they thought it was important for Andrew’s character or whatever reason they told themselves and each other, I don’t care, it just opens an entire can of holes for the audience to fall into thinking “Whose camera is this now” or “why is the camera moving now?” or “why would an amateur narcissistic filmmaker put the camera behind him?”. If it’s for character then fine, establish that he has the camera (establish him using it to put distance between himself and others as was explained in DIALOGUE, subtle), show him with the camera, and then move on. Don’t use security cameras, that’s the dumbest idea since someone decided to turn “One For the Money” into a movie. Security cameras are usually set up high, like in a corner of a room or a gas station. Cutting to a shot that is far away from the action automatically pulls the audience out of the action. Which in an action movie is bad. Also, by adding the “found footage” aspect to the film, the filmmakers add, whether intentionally or not, a suspenseful tone, not because found footage is necessarily suspenseful (as anyone who has ever watched someone else’s home movie can testify), but because movies like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield” established and really popularized the style, both of which are suspenseful films. So movie goers expect that other movies using that style will be similar. It didn’t work here. This film had tone confusion, which is largely why the trailer was so bad (try to convey a tone in a 30 second to 3 minute trailer what a movie failed to do in an hour and a half). It couldn’t decide if it was going to be a suspense, an action film, a drama, or a sci-fi flick. Mixing and matching genres can be fun, that’s how we got such awesome genres as dark comedy and horror comedy. This film however felt more like the filmmakers either weren’t sure of the tone they were aiming for, or didn’t communicate to each other what the tone of the film would be. Either way, it wasn’t catastrophic in this film, but moments did bleed in where some tone clarification would have made the film stronger.
The end climax of the film could have been stronger with a little clarification along the way. When it gets to the epic fight scene buses are thrown around, the two characters bust through buildings and fall onto cars, but their injuries don’t seem to be consistent, a bus doesn’t hurt, but falling onto a car does, etc. Also, if in the scene prior, they would have established that Andrew had a psychological break down or a psychotic break, it would explain how his actions are not the most sensical things. For example someone on the IMDB.com message board points out “why doesn’t he just bust open an ATM” when he is robbing people then gas stations to get money to build meds for his mom. And it’s a valid question, and the answer is obviously that it wouldn’t have served the plot, however were the character explained to not have been in his right mind, then making choices that don’t make sense would make sense. As would attacking every person he encounters and killing people for standing in his way.
The performance were for the most part, ignoring the above rant about acting like other actors and excepting a line or two, were pretty decent. I hated the character of Richard (the dad) (played by Michael Kelly), not because he was an abusive alcoholic, but because the character was completely unnecessary, and while I have no proof this was the actual issue, I blame the script because the character was too much for the movie, too much drama, just too much.
While Chronicle will most likely the favorite target for those who like to point out plot holes for awhile, it was fun, and sometimes that’s all you want from a movie.
B for exceeding expectations, but not as much as Mr. Popper’s Penguins.