Before I get into my review of the actual entertainment value of Chronicle itself, may I just make a plea to filmmakers around the world; just stop with the found footage movies. Actually, just stop with all the shaky cam, period. But most specifically I’m getting tired of the found footage format being used for everything. I’m not saying that it hasn’t produced some good films. I know that The Blair Witch Project has fallen from indie-grace, but when it came out it was admittedly unique and well made. (Save the Last Broadcast argument, I know it exists, ok?) I will continue to defend it. The problem is the copying of the format for a seemingly never-ending batch of first-person, purposely-poorly edited stuff flooding the cinema. I may have enjoyed the heck out of Cloverfield and Chronicle, but as a technique, it’s becoming hackneyed and copied far too often. By the time Supernatural did their rip-off episode, it was already in need of eulogizing. So try to find the next new thing to steal, please. Thank you.
Now, as for Max Landis’ film… There is a fine line between stupid characters and characters that do stupid things and I’m not sure where the line falls for Chronicle. It starts out promising enough and I certainly enjoyed the concept, heck, even the execution of a lot of the ending, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some issues with how it gets there when it comes to the character development. Granted, it’s hard to explain without spoilers a-flying, so I’ll try to skirt specifics and let any chips fall where they may with a pre-apology in case I’m actually not the last person on the planet to see the movie.
Centering a movie around a sociopath is always risky business. It becomes a little easier when you seek to be humanizing of them and their dark descent into the madness that ensnares them. As the cliche goes, absolute power corrupts and in the case of Chronicle it explores just how it does so when someone that is used to being the world’s punching bag suddenly gets the powers of a superhero.
It’s harder when it’s tough to justify the person’s choices because there seem like obvious smarter choices to make, even in the “bad choice” category. When a character is presented as having a modicum of intelligence, but then they don’t think things through at all it is aggravating.
At that point, the question becomes, “how well is the story told so that these issues can be forgiven?” In the case of Chronicle, the answer is, “well enough.”
Now I personally haven’t really had an affection for Max Landis since he put out his douchey anti-Death of Superman internet video. How does any kind of a so-called DC fan drop a steaming deuce on the awesomeness of Booster Gold? But I digress. The fact is, Landis made a pretty darn effective film about a trio of high schoolers developing telekinetic powers through contact with some mysterious, glowing, blue Maguffin in the woods.
Steve is a popular kid, big in the school sports community. Riding somewhere in the middle is Matt, a guy trying to seem cool by not caring or liking anything. And then there’s his cousin, Andrew. He’s on the bottom rungs of the social ladder, terrorized by asshats at school and in his neighborhood, plus regularly abused by his cliche drunk of a dad on disability. Presented as a cross between a Columbine Kid and the artistic weirdo in American Beauty, we are shown at the beginning of the film that he’s decided to start filming everything to chronicle (get it?!?) his life. Why he doesn’t bother to use this to, say, bring assault charges on the people slamming their meat hooks into him is never explained. But moving on…
As the trio’s powers manifest, they find themselves bonding as friends despite their differences. They experience joy in finding they can fly using their minds. But, of course, Andrew decides he’s going to use his powers to lash out. Sometimes this is at the people actually giving him grief, but he starts to be indiscriminate as he starts talking to the camera like a serial killer about being a superior predator. As he goes off the rails, he lays into the others about ‘not being his friends’ because they didn’t really know him well before getting powers, apparently being one of those people that somehow misses the point that bonding over shared experiences is exactly what leads to friendship. But hey, what’s logic when you’re an emo kid with a terrible father?
As performances go, the film does a good job all around with all three of the kids and the minor love interests all being fairly naturalistic. Michael Kelly as Andrew’s father chews scenery at a far larger capacity, but he mostly seems to exist to show up, screw things up and move on.
The most impressive thing about Chronicle is probably the economics of it. Filming in the found footage format, despite the obvious logic leaps it creates regardless of the explanations to how the footage was being collected midway through the film, no doubt has something to do with the relative lack of expense. But it’s nice that at least Landis is budget conscious. He used a fifth of what this type of film would cost in a normal shoot for a major studio. It’s the kind of filmmaking I imagine we’ll see a lot more of as belts are tightened. The effects work is, while certainly not perfect, effective and it is shows how far preparation goes in an age where throwing money at problems seems to be a preferred solution.
(Three damns out of five)