Chronicle

(2012, Dir. by Josh Trank.)

When I start talking about Chronicle, I should first point out that the film is blatantly aimed toward a teenage audience.  While teen fiction comes with some negative connotations lately – especially teen fiction that’s filmed in gray and rainy Washington state – a lot of Chronicle’s teen qualities are good things. It would be easy to dress up this movie even more for teen audiences, but I really think the characters in Chronicle react to their predicament in a manner that’s pretty realistic compared to most modern teenagers on screen.

The film follows the path of three teenagers – one a charismatic candidate for class president; one a brooding, bullied loner; one a good-looking “normal” guy with eyes on a good-looking “normal” girl – who encounter a strange phenomenon outside a rave and suddenly realize they have telekinetic powers and maybe even the ability to fly.  The three form a bond based on their gift (or is it an affliction?), but things can only stay happy for so long.  If there’s no conflict, there’s no movie.

Speaking of the existence of the movie, Chronicle has been inexplicably made as a “found footage” film. The story is that angry young Andrew is filming everything because he’s been bullied by everyone from his alcoholic father to the drug dealers down the street and the tough guys at school.  Oh, and the “normal” girl is actually a blogger who films everything too, which means we get multiple angles on the action from all over the film’s universe.  But, really, there’s no good reason at all for the film to be filmed in this manner, and the gimmick only takes away from what could have been, especially when we learn that Andrew can conveniently control the camera and its perspective with his mind.  (I’m not sure if he edited the movie with his mind too, but if he did he liked to cut for random intervals of seconds to minutes within a scene.)

Back to the conflict: Director Josh Trank and writer Max (son of John) Landis really want the viewer to buy into Andrew’s plight.  The character has obviously been a victim most of his life, and they want us to believe that this tortured soul is a Frankenstein’s monster-esque victim in this teenage world.  The character is allowed control of the film and plays up the fact that he’s stronger than all of his oppressors as things roll toward the final act.  But the film’s presentation of his inner turmoil – including multiple references to famous philosophers and a ham-fisted monologue about apex predators – falls flat most of the time.  The relationship between Andrew and his “normal” cousin (I keep putting “normal” in quotations, because I’m using the Hollywood definition that allows an underwear model lookin’ dude to be “normal” in his film’s setting) is a bit more effective at selling the difference between Andrew and other kids, but the film rolls to its conclusion too quickly and doesn’t give this relationship enough time to bloom.

It’s all kind of sad that the film’s conflict is so disjointed, because Chronicle’s strength is definitely its teenage world.  The performers are pretty natural in the roles, particularly Alex Russell as that “normal” dude and Michael B. Jordan (of Friday Night Lights! Texas Forever!) as the cool dude.  Dane DeHaan isn’t bad as Andrew, but I think the film’s presentation of the character makes it a little harder for me to really appreciate him in the role.  Part of me thinks it’s the script’s fault, but part of me thinks the actor takes “I’m gonna be as angry as a ’90s grunge music video” too seriously.  (Hey, the movie’s set in Seattle, so maybe he’s on to something.)

The easy thing to say about Chronicle is that it’s a superhero film for the Twilight crowd, but I don’t think that’s a fair statement.  As much as I’ve nitpicked the movie so far, I liked most of what Chronicle had to offer.  The teenage world blends well with some simple special effects and decent actors, and the script has a few turns that keep us thinking as the plot moves forward.  I wish a few things were handled differently, but it’s a neat little action movie when it’s not trying to hard to be a statement on bullying and human nature.  Look, I know bullying is a real thing and is way important, but Chronicle could’ve pumped the brakes a few times and had more fun with its premise.  The tone is about the only thing that holds this one back from becoming a major early year sci-fi surprise.

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