Chronicle does it right

The first time I saw the trailer for Chronicle, it was when I went to see Captain America. At first, I really didn't know what to make of it, but it certainly caught my attention.

The minimalist poster made me really wonder about this movieThe trailer reminded me of Cloverfield for more than one reason. First, and most obviously was the 'found footage' style in which the trailer, (and the movie) was shot. Secondly, was the fact that aside from the Facebook URL, they never mentioned the name of the movie in the trailer. No flashy title sequence, no mention of it in dialogue. That alone made me curious. Cloverfield did the same at the end of their trailer, only showing the release date, 1.18.08 at the end of the trailer (which, humorously, many thought was in fact the title of the movie).

Chronicle amazed me on numerous levels. Not really knowing what to expect (except for some sweet sweet powers, and very cool, minimalist poster art), I went into the movie hoping to be engaged. Chronicle didn't disappoint.

From here on out, there may be spoilers-

The Story

Chronicle takes a genre that has become very popular in the past few years and makes it new. Super heroes have only looked cooler as visual effects technology has gotten more advanced, and the audience has been eating it up. Chronicle follows three high school students, Andrew, Matt and Steve as they gain super powers, build a friendship, and become stronger. As nothing goes completely as planned, we also see how the tragic life of one of the characters, mixed with his near godlike abilities, results in disaster. To really understand how this all happens, you have to understand the characters, which writer Max Landis and director, John Trank help us do very well.

The principle cast: Matt, Steve and AndrewWhat sets Chronicle apart is that none of the three main characters are actually 'heroes' at all. What the movie does best is describe how real high school students would react if they somehow developed super powers. They mess with people, play pranks, and Andrew raises his social status from the kid that was picked on to being cheered on at a party. There was no greater good that they fought against. No evil mastermind bent on world domination that they had to thwart. They did what any other high school students (and many adults) would do. They used their powers for personal gain.

It was at this point in the film that we really got the first glimpse of who these characters were under the hood. From the fun-loving, popular Steve, to the philosopher-quoting Matt who wants to do more in life, but falls short, to the physically and emotionally abused Andrew. With the inability to defend himself at school or from his father, coupled with his inability to do anything to save his dying mother, Andrew uses the newfound powers to overcompensate for his overall weakness and lack of control of his life or the world around him. By virtue of the variety of these character's walks of life, Landis and Trank give us a cast that we can easily empathize with.

The disturbed AndrewAs the character's powers increase, and their aspirations grow, Andrew's home life deteriorates as his mother slips closer and closer to death. Placing the blame on Andrew, his father becomes more and more abusive until in a fit of rage, Andrew snaps, starting the downfall of the trio. Tensions and tempers rise, until the death of one of the characters splits the relationship of the remaining two, leading to a super powered face-off in the final act.

The story has been done before. "With great power comes great responsibility," is often quoted when referring to superhero movies. Chronicle takes what we already know, and removes the gleam of Iron man's armor, the wit in Spider-Man, the magnificence of Thor, and the camaraderie of X-Men. So what sets it apart? Realism. Characters act how real kids act. They speak the way high school students speak. Andrew's motivations of achieving social acceptance, and caring for his mother are easily believable. When the film reaches its dramatic third act, we understand how his megalomaniacal attitude and eventual decline comes to pass. The only thing that I wish was different was more time to see the decline in action. Due to the nature of how it was filmed, Chronicle only allows us to see what the Andrew though worthy of getting on tape. Which of course leads us to...

How It Was Filmed

Andrew plays cameraman for both the audience, and the movie that is his life.As I mentioned before, Chronicle is a 'found footage' genre, much like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project. It makes more sense though, in this movie. The movie opens with Andrew filming his abusive, drunk father attempting to get into his room. "I'm filming everything from here on out," he says. We see the world through Andrew's eyes. On a number of occasions, characters make mention of it, saying that it's creepy that Andrew is filming them for no apparent reason. One thing that Andrew does say in his defense is a response to Steve, who says that it's like a barrier between him and everyone else. "Maybe I want a barrier," Andrew replies. The camera is Andrew's protective shield. In a way, it's a disassociation method. He's the star of his own movie, but he sees it as someone on the outside looking in. As Chronicle progresses, Andrew uses his telekinesis to have the camera levitate around him, the perfect way for the director to achieve different shot types while still holding on to the found footage genre. We even get to see different points of view through security cameras, mobile phones, and other film people filming the events happening around them. This calls back to the title of the movie, Chronicle, being a chronicle of the events that these young men lived. 

The Effects

Before Chronicle came on, the trailer for Battleship played (for my thoughts on that, read my previous blog here). One thing I noticed was the overuse of CG. Of course, I haven't seen the movie, but from what I can tell, it will suffer from what Transformers had: an overuse of visual effects. Without them, I can't imagine that the movie would be anywhere near as enjoyable, which says a lot about the movie overall. This was another thing that set Chronicle apart. For the first two acts, the majority of the effects were practical, or at the most, subtle. We didn't see any glow bits, power rays or things of that sort. What we did see, however, we're the effects of those powers. We didn't see the energy that made objects move, but we saw the result of it. We saw the result of people being knocked around, not the actual force that did the act. This allowed us to focus more of the people, rather than the glamour. As someone who loves visual effects, but hates seeing them over used and replacing good storytelling, this was a breath of fresh air.

Chronicle could have been better. My girlfriend said that she wished that she saw Andrew become more evil throughout the movie. I wish I had seen more of their discovery of their abilities and how it affected their daily lives. But of what I did see, Chronicle did a fantastic job of revitalizing more than one genre at the same time. Landis even leaves enough room for a sequel, which I certainly hope we see. For a mid-winter release, I'd say it was a success. And, with an estimated budget of $12 million, and already toping $40 million in less than two weeks, I'd say that the box office agrees.