What I’ve Been Watching: Chronicle

ChronicleChronicle must be the worst title for a movie I’ve seen in a long time. It’s bland, and forgettable, in fact the dictionary defines it as:

A work of fiction or nonfiction that describes a particular series of events.

Which covers just about every film ever. When the title of your film describes just about every film ever you should probably think about changing it.

Although I must admit my reasons for hating it are not entirely without prejudice. Its forgetability did lead to a source of embarrassment when ordering tickets, since I somehow forgot what the film was called in the 30 minutes between checking the film’s showtime and leaving my flat, and arriving at the ticket desk. This has never happened before.

I looked at the screen above the merchant’s head in panic hoping for it to appear, and then thankfully spotted a leaflet with this week’s film showings. I leafed through it hoping I’d be able to spot the film in question instead of going to see the latest Rom-Com or Bollywood Movie with an equally innocuous title.

Anyway, hopefully after that lengthy introduction you will now remember that the film I’m about to review is called Chronicle. Chronicle. Got it? It sounds like Chronic Ill.

The film centres on Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an unpopular boy whose father is an alcoholic and whose Mum is terminally ill. He decides to start ‘chronicling’ his life with a video camera, much like Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. Shortly into the film he and his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), and Matt’s friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) discover a strange underground cave with glowing crystals that change give them the ability to control things with their minds.

The first thing to stay is that this stylistic choice does differentiate it from every other superhero movie on the market. Chronicle feels very different to any of Marvel or DC’s characters, and other attempts to redefine the genre like Kick Ass or Scott Pilgrim. However, its not different enough to films like Cloverfield to fully justify its use of this technique. Instead it feels like the filmmakers merely trying to be a little too clever with the ways they manage to shoehorn angles and shots into the narrative.

In particular Cloverfield and Blair Witch Project work because the camera is more or less the main characters’ way of understanding the strange things that are happening to them over the short time these films depict. Chronicle takes place over a much longer space of time, and the film fails to give enough justification for Andrew to keep filming everything so that we don’t feel the need to question this stylistic choice.

The narrative of the film itself is actually very good. As already stated, this doesn’t feel like ‘just another superhero movie’. Instead, the filmmakers actually have something original to show us in terms of three ordinary teenagers getting superpowers and behaving like teenagers would.

The camaraderie that exists between the three of them in the middle act of the piece is the film’s strongest point. They egg each other on to try and move bigger and bigger things, and are equally thrilled and competitive in seeing each other push their powers further and further.

Another wise choice is the lack of a villain in the film, unlike pretty much every other superhero film I can think of. In doing so, it allows Andrew’s problems to be a lot more grounded and relatable. He wants to fit in, but when he does find two friends who share his powers, his lack of experience with other people causes him to continually question their loyalty and leads to the film’s main conflict in the final act.

Andrew’s arc, without trying to spoil too much, is one of the best of a superhero film in a while, as it sees him go through the experience of any teenager reaching adulthood. That is the realization that you have just as much (or in his case more) power than any adult, and the problem of how to put that power to best use. This mirroring of real life works very well until the film’s somewhat controversial ending.

I say ‘controversial’ since the climax of the film takes us from an independent, cult movie into the realms of Hollywood Blockbuster, and although technically very good takes us (literally) out of the small-town, relatable high-school setting and into something much bigger and uglier.

Up to the film’s last fifteen minutes, all the film’s issues had been small, relatable, and within the context of a community. By taking the climax out of here, the film definitely loses something.

Here’s what I think may have made a lot more sense:
(SPOILERS)
The film should have ended with Andrew in a high school setting doing similarly despicable things. It would have made perfect sense for him to destroy such a place, and the emotional impact of him doing so would have been a lot more felt. My guess is the filmmaker’s chickened out of this because of its resonance with other real-life scenes of brutality within such a context.
(END OF SPOILERS)

Anyway, overall Chronicles is a clever, introspective superhero film that somehow manages to feel fresh in amongst the masses of other Superhero Films out there for which it should be given credit. The extent to which its Found Footage style helps or hinders its storytelling is up for debate, but it is a film worthy of your attention… So long as you can remember its title.

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One response to “What I’ve Been Watching: Chronicle

  1. I haven’t gotten a chance to see Chronicle yet, but I’m glad to see you gave it a positive review because my hopes for it have been pretty high. I wasn’t aware until reading your review that there isn’t a villain in the film, but that just intrigues me all the more.

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