Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, Anna Wood, Rudi Malcolm, Luke Tyler
Directed by Josh Trank
Expectations: Moderately high. I really liked the FX in the TV spot.
Chronicle is a found-footage movie that forgets one key element of the found-footage genre: the consumer-grade video camera. Instead of shooting the film on low-end equipment to give the film’s tale credibility and reality, the filmmakers instead chose to shoot the entire thing on the ARRI Alexa (which runs about $90,000 for a starter kit), basically the current reigning digital camera champion. It’s been used to shoot a shitload of high-profile films such as Drive, Hugo, Melancholia, The Avengers, and many, many more. (And yes, I only picked movies that I had reviewed so that I could link them… What can I say? The shot in Chronicle of the Apple iPad hurtling towards the screen with the Apple logo always in full view inspired my shameless side. I would advise Apple’s marketing team to insist that in the sequel it is a MacBook that is hurtled so that the Apple logo can be illuminated when it’s flying towards the screen.) While the Alexa itself is revolutionary and truly able to capture some amazing digital images, Chronicle is a found-footage movie. The stunning visuals should come from the specifics of the action, not the quality of the cinematography.
In part, the film does deliver great special effects that make you believe three high school kids just got crazy superpowers. The best of these moments is the one that sold me when I saw it in the trailer. It features the lead kid riding in the back seat of a car. An asshole guy in a truck follows closely behind, honking his horn. The kid waves his arm to the side and the truck careens off the road, through the guard rail and into the river below. Holy shit! It really looks great, but a few pretty FX aren’t gonna do the job here. If this was a four-minute short film, I’d be singing a different tune, but this is actually one of the more boring eighty-minute films I’ve seen in a while. And I’m the guy that sat through six horribly lackluster Josh Kirby, Time Warrior films earlier this year.
Chronicle‘s plot is beyond minuscule. It’s literally the bare minimum necessary to string a few scenes together. Most of the first hour or so consists of this repeating cycle:
“Oh shit, dude, check this out!”
“Woah, no way! That’s awesome! How’d you do that?”
“Try it, dude!”
“OK, here goes! Oh wow, I can do it too!”
And reset. There’s a real lack of character development as well; I literally didn’t know the one dude’s name until about an hour into the movie. They may have said it earlier, but it was obviously lost in a sea of insubstantial dialogue. Oh sure, they try to tack on a character arc in the final half hour, but it’s forced and ridiculous. That being said, the over-the-top insanity of the final act was infinitely more entertaining than the first hour, and it provided me with a number of big, unintentional moments of comedy. I have a thing for laughing at characters who are screaming, and boy does the end of Chronicle deliver a doozy of a screaming scene.
I took a shitload of notes while watching this one, but most of them pertained to my anger over the filmmakers choosing not to adhere to the found-footage ideal that they obviously wanted their film to be a part of at some point in the production. I especially enjoyed towards the end when the camera starts floating around artistically and is obviously not handheld. We’re supposed to believe that the guys are so powerful now that they’re controlling the camera with their minds while also getting ready for the day, but to me it just seemed like the filmmakers got lazy and wanted to try some cool overhead shots, even if the whole basis of their film’s aesthetic goes against doing that. I also find it hilarious that this movie has succeeded in making me argue for the traditional found-footage visual aesthetic, something that I almost unequivocally despise. Regardless of my personal feelings, I would like filmmakers to be consistent to the world they’ve set up, and sorry, I just can’t buy that a shitty Handycam from Best Buy delivers images like that. This is where my understanding and affection for the technicality of film gets the better of me.
I would have liked some back story on how the guys get their powers as well. There’s only the one scene towards the beginning, and it’s easily my favorite of the film even if it is incredibly vague and unsatisfying. I guess I don’t really need more explanation, but I would have like some science fiction idea to enrich the film and intellectually excite me. Overall, Chronicle is much too slow and boring to be fun, and I’m shocked at how well received this one was. Really? I guess I’m more out of touch with modern film sensibilities than I thought.