2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Action, Drama
Opens locally Friday, February 3rd, 2012
Run Time: 1 hour 23 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw
Directed by Josh Trank (feature film debut)
Chronicle is a low-budget movie that has an intelligently realistic science-fiction premise at its core. What would real-life teenagers do if they attained super powers? To say that it borrows from the plot of the X-Men comic book would be stating the obvious. Even more to the point, Chronicle asks what would happen to these "mutants" if neither Professor X or Magneto were there to guide their purpose. Unlike X-Men however, Chronicle fails to deliver anything believable - even within the realm of fantasy - a fatal flaw when you are attempting to inject a comic book plot with realism.
Part Blair Witch Project with a touch of Cloverfield, Chronicle can best be described as a display of amateur auteurism, where style replaces substance. The movie that we see is supposed to be a series of clips recorded by the characters themselves, events that are caught on camera as they happen. The story centers around three high school boys, only one of which is given any sort of characterization. This would be the loner Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan, a relatively unknown young actor who was great on HBO’s In Treatment (A great stage for acting talent...it wasn’t too long ago that Mia Wasikowska was also an unknown teenage actor on In Treatment. I’m just sayin’). Andrew isn’t popular at school, doesn’t have many friends, and comes from a troubled home. His dad is abusive and his mom is on her death bed. He chronicles every moment of his life on his cool video camera.
The other two may as well be made of cardboard, and given as much depth. By chance, Andrew winds up at a party with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and the Class-President-To-Be Steve (Michael B. Jordan…no relation). The three stumble upon a mysterious crater, and after entering it they soon learn that they all have gained the same super-human ability to manipulate gravity by means of telekinesis.
So what would teenagers do if they gained a super power such as this? These kids choose to keep it to themselves completely, experimenting with their limitations in secret. At first, they dabble in harmlessness, floating baseballs across the yard and attempting to assemble Lego pieces in mid-air. One of them describes the new power as a muscle, and like a muscle it needs to be flexed and strengthened. As they grow more muscular in their abilities and more aware of their potential, they learn to make themselves fly, move cars, and create protective barriers around their bodies. As the film rolls along, the troubled Andrew becomes increasingly unstable, to the point where he begins to question whether or not this is a privilege of power, or simply the evolution of mankind itself. His choices become dangerous for the others, and for the rest of the world.
Shouldn’t or wouldn't someone in the film say something at this point? Even with terrible nose bleeds brought on by using their powers, nobody seems concerned in the least.
Now in and of itself, Chronicle does offer an interesting take on the pitfalls of these amazing circumstances, but the point-of-view camera gimmick wears thin almost immediately. You believe that Andrew may be recording himself on the way to school or at lunch. You tend to call BS though, when he brings his camera with him as he flies through the clouds, playing catch football with his pals with a camera in-hand. Let’s not even question the boys’ ability to breathe at this high altitude, but how strong must that camera mic be, to pick up perfectly the voices of the other boys as they zip through the sky? Call those minor gripes, but I couldn't see past these small bits of craziness as they piled up.
The gimmick of the camera traps the movie in amateur-land. There is a female present in certain scenes, who happens to be a vlogger (video blogger), apparently just so Chronicle can offer a different angle when two characters are having a discussion. When the climax battle sequence comes late into the film, we see the point-of-view of security cameras and floating laptops. The critical eye will wonder who was shooting many of the intense close-up angles of the faces that we get in the midst of mayhem…perhaps a floating IPhone?
All science-fiction requires suspended belief on some level, and the best of the genre (re: last year’s Source Code) has the plot make sense within the confines of the world that it wants you to believe in. Chronicle doesn’t explain what the motivations are for the other two kids. Worst of all, it is completely unbelievable to think that these kids would keep their powers a secret in the midst of certain tragedies that befall them.
The X-Men are popular because they exist as 3-dimensional characters even within their 2-dimensional borders. The characters in Chronicle are paper-thin, making it hard for us to care about what’s at stake even if we could agree with their implausible decisions.
Fans of sci-fi, Chronicle is proof that it takes more than a great idea to make a great film. Or even a good one.
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