Thursday, February 9, 2012

Movie Review: Chronicle

Chronicle ***
Directed by: Josh Trank.
Written by: Max Landis.
Starring: Dane DeHaan (Andrew Detmer), Alex Russell (Matt Garetty), Michael B. Jordan (Steve Montgomery), Michael Kelly (Richard Detmer), Ashley Hinshaw (Casey Letter), Bo Petersen (Karen Detmer), Anna Wood (Monica).

Chronicle is an inventive new addition to the found footage genre – films like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield or Paranormal Activity – which are films supposedly shot the characters themselves who feel the need to document their every move. I find that sometimes, in these movies, I cannot help but wonder why the person filming never stops – Cloverfield in particular had this problem, because if you’re under attack by giant monsters, why the hell would you want to hobble yourself with a camera? But in Chronicle, it makes sense. The movie centers on three teenagers of the You Tube generation, who always seem to be filming themselves anyway. And once they get their telekinetic powers, and can control the camera with their minds, well, why not film all the cool stuff you can do?

I guess I should mention that the three teenagers are Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an antisocial, friendless loser at high school, his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), who is perhaps too smart for his own good, and likes Andrew, but pities him as well, and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), a football star running for class President – so essentially the most popular kid at school. Matt convinces Andrew to go to a rave with him, and it is there that the three of them find a crater in the ground – and being overly confident teenagers, jump right in. There is something down there, something alien perhaps, and then the camera shuts down. When we next see them, they have realized that something happened down in that crater – they have special powers, and can move things with their minds.

I liked how, when the teens find out they have telekinetic powers that just keep getting more powerful the more they use them, they continue act just like teenagers would. They have fun with their powers – using a leaf blower to blow the cheerleaders skirts up, playing around in a toy store by making a shopping cart go out of control and screwing with kids by making a teddy bear float. When they figure out that they can use their powers to fly, they do just that, even though it’s incredibly stupid and foolish. But have you seen the stupid things teenagers post on You Tube every day?

But even in these light hearted scenes, there is darkness lurking. Even though he now has friends, Andrew still feels like the high school loser. His mother is dying a slow, painful death from cancer, and his father is a mean drunk. He goes too far early in the film, and even though he apologizes for it, you don’t really believe it. Just when it seems he may be getting over that seething resentment though, things go horribly wrong, and you know he’s going to lose it.

The movie gets darker as it goes along, and the last half hour is very dark. I probably would have preferred a lower key ending to the special effects extravaganza that ends Chronicle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.  
Chronicle is inventive in its use of camera work – the camera literally floats above the action at times, observing everything. It is well written Max Landis, son of John, and he has created three believable characters, who behave and talk like teenagers. The three central performances, by actors I have never seen before (or at least, I don’t remember) are not forced, but natural. The anger in the movie comes from a real place. The problem with many found footage movies – and this goes even for good ones like Paranormal Activity – is that the characters never really feel real. They do here, and that’s why Chronicle works way better than I ever expected it would.

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