Chronicle

There is something inherently engaging about the "found footage" (Cloverfield, Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, etc.) style of filmmaking. Occasionally used as a con to get viewers to believe it is real footage, it is really just a clever way to hide a lower budget. There have been some successes using this style, and some abysmal failures. Every once in a while, "found footage" doesn't feel forced or cliched, and fits perfectly with the story being told. Like it does with Chronicle.

There are three main characters, although the story is really centered around Andrew, the boy behind the camera. He starts off very broken, having suffered years of psychological and physical abuse from his father. His life is so unfair that you can't help but feel for him. These aspects of Andrew's life give him a logical reason for using the camera; he needs it as almost a shield from the pain of his surroundings. This simple gimmick really sells the whole format, and also allows us to get emotionally invested in his character.

The other two major characters are Matt, Andrew's cousin and armchair philosopher, and Steve, a popular student and aspiring politician. Matt and Steve are not quite as central as Andrew, but each have an important role in Andrew's life. Steve represents Andrew's future, the prospect of breaking out of the horrors of the past that has previously defined him. Matt is tied to Andrew's past and serves as a moral compass, as well as the ideal of human law and family.

Eventually, they all gain powers. I won't say how or exactly what they are, but the way they portray these powers is a wonderful example of how superpowers might be addressed in real life. The characters use their powers like teenagers would: they lash out in frustration, play with societal boundaries, and even pull silly pranks on each other. The powers are also grown in a very logical fashion, starting with floating Legos and eventually graduating to crashing through buildings and tossing around cars. Thankfully, all the effects are an extension of the story, even if they are the catalyst for those events. It is nice to see the effects as secondary to the plot, where they should be.

The final act is, frankly, awesome. It is the culmination of all the events and choices that each character experiences. It expands the camera use to public CCTV, news cameras, cop car cameras, witnesses' cell phones, and more. The explosion of exposure, and the extreme use of the powers happens in such an organic way that even with the abrupt shifting of quality and angle of the cameras, the narrative is unbroken. It is an emotional finale, and makes me wish that more superhero movies took the time to explore character the way this one did.

Chronicle isn't perfect. There are some flaws in the effects. The background characters are really just used as character motivation, set dressings, or convenient excuses for more cameras. But overall, this is an extremely satisfying and well-made film, and a nice addition to the superhero genre. I truly hope there is a sequel.

3 and 1/2 out of 4 floating Legos.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

6 comments:

MovieMark said...

One of the best superhero origin films I've ever seen. And definitely one of the flicks so far this year.

Nick said...

So glad to see a review of this great flick here. And I completely, utterly agree that this is probably one of the best found-footage flicks I've ever seen.

Only a few things to add: One, the flying scenes are the best I've ever seen on screen. It was oddly immersive and I think I started sweating a little - another scene that came close was the climbing scene from MI4, and look how much money that took :)

Also, anyone else think the acting was actually really good? Most other found footage films don't quite seem to have very dynamic characters - Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch Project, they had okay characters that played the part, but in Chronicle I felt like I could actually pin distinct personality traits onto them. And care for them. It's great to find a character-focused found footage movie, especially since that seems to get short shrift in some other instances.

I wouldn't label this a superhero flick though. The people do what real people would do, there are no idealists out to save others, and it gets pretty dark. I'd still call Watchmen a superhero flick on a technicality, but I don't think this is at all the same thing.

Ovnio said...

See, I WOULD call it a superhero movie. It has many of the superhero genre elements: it's an origin story for both a hero and a villain, the set piece where they get superpowers, the tragedy that sends them on their respective paths, the bullying at school, the sense of awe as they discover their new abilities . . . there's even that (sort of) hilarious sequence where the kid gets a "costume" (his dad's old firefighter clothes).

Of course, I also think WATCHMEN is a superhero movie. I think our definitions of the genre are very different.

At any rate, I loved the movie. I am so tired of the found footage gimmick and this one actually made it work.

Nick said...

Well, it's not that I have something against calling it a superhero movie - I'm fine either way, if it's a great movie I'd watch it!

But I suppose it's just that for the sake of general discussion (say if I'm talking to family/friends) to say movies like these are superhero movies might be misleading, with most people associating 'superhero' with flicks like Spiderman. My worry is more that such a label can be misleading for people whose general view of 'superhero' means a somewhat family-friendly, happy-ending type of movie. Watchmen and Chronicle are both dark in a very different way than The Dark Knight, for example; as a kid I think Chronicle would scare me more.

That said I don't have a problem with calling it a superhero movie, as you've pointed out that at least technically it checks a lot of boxes. Probably one of the best superhero movies I've ever seen, then :)

J.D. Balthazar said...

Thank you guys for your comments! I totally agree with the Watchmen comparison. This movie has a darker, and more real-to-life tone than say Spider-man. Yet to me the definition of the "Superhero" genre extends to anything that deals with people gaining or using supernatural abilities greater than human.

But "Superhero" isn't really its own genre. It is a subset of other genres. Some of these movies would fall into Science Fiction, and some into Fantasy. Yet if you isolate "Superhero" as its own classification I would definitely include Chronicle in that category. Still I guess the hardest thing to wrap my head around is the term Hero as it applies to this "Superhero" genre, since it isn't always about heroes.

Confused yet?

Glad to help ;)

Billie Doux said...

I just saw this movie and I think your review is pretty much perfect, J.D. You mentioned all of the movie's strengths, and it worked. There were two things about it that I didn't like, though. The queasy cam pretty much drove me nuts and I kept longing to actually *see* Andrew. And a lot of the content was very guy. As a woman, I found it difficult to relate to the characters and didn't care about them as much as I should have. I don't know if it was just me or not. Anyway, for what it's worth.