Chronicle (2012)

CapeCapeHalf a capeHalf a balding headHalf a wrecking ballHalf a tent

Ah, now I see why they threw Josh Trank straight into the deep end of the action-movie pool, and thought he could handle a project like the Fant4stic Four reboot with no Hollywood experience. The cheap indie-amateur look of the first two thirds of this movie in no way prepares you for the scale of spectacle it comes up with at the end, so they must have figured that this would be the guy who could make a contractually obligated placeholder film with a tight budget into something that could wow a crowd.

Yeah, the closing act of Chronicle is most righteous. It’s striking and memorable and visually impressive, as well as being suspenseful and thrilling. It will be remembered for years as a heroic deed of low-budget filmmaking. Also, the acting is solid throughout the film. This is easily, by far, the best “found footage” movie I’ve seen, blowing away such lame efforts as Cloverfield.

But that is not a high bar, and it doesn’t mean I can recommend this without reservations. Much of the early going, though it tells a story I enjoyed overall, was not enjoyable at all on a minute-by-minute basis to sit through. This may be partly a personal limitation. I may have a pretty good tolerance for cheap, independent, alternative, arty, avant-garde, or experimental film, but nowadays I have very little capacity to tolerate movies with high school in them. Teenage social drama is an instant turnoff. Worse, the improvisational dialogue this film uses is kind of hard to take — it mostly sounds quite real, but you’d think at least some students at any given high school would be able to state a complete thought as a paragraph instead of communicating only in sentence fragments with “like” in them. After a while, the tendency toward Trumpian word-salad in the improvised dialog can really start to grate.

And though the story is not what you expect, it ends up feeling familiar — even the cool ending part might tempt one to chime in with “Tetsuoooo! Tetsuoooo!” and the like, because of the bits that remind you of other films. (Trank has acknowledged Akira as an influence.)

But on the other hand, there’s some good misdirection as to who ends up playing out what sort of role, so though you may end up in a somewhat familiar place, you won’t be recognizing the road you’re taking to get there. This allows some bits that might otherwise seem a bit clichéd to still feel fresh. For this reason, I recommend seeing the film without advance spoilers.

So for me the film kind of averages out to just moderately good, even though the good parts are quite good indeed. But for someone who isn’t as sensitive as I am to the teenagey parts, this might be a good film to recommend.

Our story: Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan — infinitely better here than he was in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) is an introverted high school student with a tough life at home. He decides to start carrying a video camera around and chronicling his life. This does not endear him to his classmates. Andrew has a cousin, Matt Garetty, who seems far more well adjusted. Matt tries to help out Andrew’s social life. This leads to meeting Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan!, not yet an A-lister), a popular athlete. When a mysterious hole in the ground opens up, the three of them take a closer look... and in the following weeks, they find they are developing telekinetic powers. At first they use this in silly ways, but as their power grows, they realize they have to treat the subject much more seriously. They start to disagree about the right way forward. Conflict heightens...... and I’ll say no more.

The character development is handled pretty well: each person changes with the circumstances in an interesting and believable way. Andrew in particular has a character arc with more than one turn to it. And the emotional connections between the characters seem pretty solid.

As a found-footage film, cinematography is of course not its strong suit, but they do manage some memorable shots in spite of that. At first the image is crappy because Andrew has a cheap camera, but fear not, they switch to a better one pretty soon. And in the finale, many public cameras are involved. I only noticed one scene where they cheated, and a camera shouldn’t have been there.

All in all, this film may not be a masterpiece, but it is definitely one I recommend seeing.