I finally saw Chronicle last week. I know, I call myself a fanboy and yet it took me two weeks to get around to seeing a movie documenting a geek fantasy come to life. All I can offer in my defense was that I had to go with my sister to see Woman in Black, and then I got really sick.
But enough about me, I have a request to review this movie, and damn it, that is what I am going to do.
Basic set up: Three high school students come across a mysterious object in the woods. After this encounter, they slowly develop telekinetic powers.
The hook: it is a found-footage movie.
When ads came out about this movie I had a mixed reaction. On one hand, I am a leery of the whole found-footage genre. I think it is getting overused and you always have the sense that all the characters you are watching are doomed. On the other hand the trailers looked like it was going to be a good movie.
So which hand won?
First, I think we need to look at what kind of movie we are looking at. Strip away the found footage aspect, and this is at its heart a superhero origin film. But even that is over-simplified, as it does not follow the normal conventions of an origin film either.
I don’t want to give too much away, but basically this is a superhero origin film that does not focus on the person destined to be the hero. In pure geek terms this is like a Spider-man movie that focuses on Harry Osborn.
They also give a good reason why it is a found-footage film. In most films of this subset, it does not make sense why the characters would keep filming as the events progress. Here, Andrew, the main focus of the three leads, is heavily abused and bullied. He starts filming things as a coping mechanism, and as the film progresses it becomes clear that his filming has become obsessive. Also since he is telekinetic he can be filming and still be in the shot. It is a good hand wave and makes this movie much more interesting than a lot of others have been when this technique is used.
The heart of the movie is the main characters and their relationship. Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan , as our camera man is also our main character. As I said above, he is dealing with his father who is an abusive drunk, a mother who is dying, and he is a target of bullies in his neighborhood and school. His retreat behind his camera makes perfect sense. His only friend is his cousin Matt, played by Alex Russell, who is more popular, and has been growing away from him. Rounding out our trio is Steve, played by Michael B. Jordan; a friend of Matt’s who is running for class president.
The first act of the movie is about the three boys bonding after they start gaining their powers. It plays true because I honestly believe that any group of teenage boys in the same circumstance would act the same way.
The second act starts to turn dark as the first signs of strain from Andrew start showing. An abused kid starts getting power; the tragedy is almost a forgone conclusion.
In the third act, when things fall apart you still feel for them, because so much time was spent showing who they are and how they ended up there.
The films weakness comes from the supporting characters. They are just not well-developed. Andrew’s father is just a stereotype, a drunken abuser with no redeeming qualities. There were a couple of chances to give his character some depth, but they were not taken; instead just driving home what a horrible person he is. Andrew’s mother has no character beyond being sick and dying.
I wish a little more depth was given to Matt’s romantic interest, Casey. She is a video blogger, which gives Matt a chance at scenes that do not involve Andrew. It is implied she is into social causes, but really she is there to give Matt someone to relate to beyond his buddies.
As a movie about superpowers it works great. They set the rules the powers obey, and stay consistent to them. They do fall prey to psychic nosebleed trope (please read the rebuttal to this trope here). As previously stated I think the depiction of what the boys do with their powers is very realistic. They do not start out as very powerful, and so they test what they can do, and largely use it to screw around in novel ways. The special effects are fairly effective, especially in conjunction with the home video style. The way they handle the characters flying is especially effective.
Final verdict: This is a very good movie that every self-respecting geek needs to add to their collection once it has its DVD release.