"Chronicle" features super powers in documentary-style film
What would you do with super powers? Think through the answer carefully, and not in a conventional kind of way — like ﬁghting crime, putting out ﬁres or rescuing cats in trees — but from a deeply personal perspective. What would you do with super powers?
In an ever-burgeoning craze of found-footage ﬁlmmaking, “Chronicle” stands out as one of the most innovative productions Iʼve seen in this genre. It takes the darkly realistic idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely, especially when that power allows you to send buses sky high.
Main characters face hard circumstances
We begin with the introduction of the three protagonists, and I use that term loosely. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is the high school outcast; he lives in a decrepit, dysfunctional household and has every reason to hate people and question their motives. Matt (Alex Russell) is Andrewʼs cousin, an easy-going, wannabe intellectual. Steve (Michael B. Jordan) is running for student body president and serves as the token every manʼs man on campus.
The three are brought together one night by the joint discovery of a strange hole in a barren pasture. Descending into the cavity and following an ominous tunnel, they come upon a mysterious object comparable to a giant snowﬂake wedged between underground rocks. Next thing you know, the thing is glowing, Steveʼs nose starts to bleed and the camera cuts to black. Seconds and perhaps weeks later we see the three are alive and well in Steveʼs backyard, exercising new abilities by manipulating the path of a baseball ... with their minds.
Here is where the ﬁlm could have easily deteriorated into a series of cheap thrill - three telekinetic high schoolers at the core of a narrative sounds like a Disney Channel sitcom. However, “Chronicle” handles real-world characters who manage their powers in real ways, such as Andrew’s emotional instability. He constantly flaunts his superior sense of his powers compared to Matt and Steveʼs paltry, thrill-seeking mentalities of their own. The audience senses Andrewʼs darkness from the beginning. His disposition is that of a premature sociopath. Yet it is not until he possesses the powers that we understand the real danger that lies behind his troubled eyes. As things progress, Matt and Steve notice this threat and make a point to set boundaries for the powers while making Andrew feel accepted and important.
Documentary-style film features realistic graphics
For a ﬁlm shot completely in documentary-style, it has a very deﬁned sense of beginning, middle and end. The middle is dedicated to the self-awareness the three develop for what they want their powers to mean in their lives: Matt sees his own as an opportunity to inherit something special. Steve sees them as a vessel for increased life success. Andrew seeks to use them for higher means of enlightenment. However, when they all learn to ﬂy, they share a uniﬁed sense of exuberance.
I wonʼt talk much about the end, and though it was moderately predictable I will say that it was an impressive and destructive climax set in downtown Seattle. As the Emerald City is my hometown, I was thrilled to see so many familiar spots featured, including the iconic Space Needle.
This excitement turned to shock as I watched parts of the city reduced to rubble in the wake of telekinetic chaos. The computer graphics in “Chronicle” were very fresh to me. They were shaded just enough to be convincing without stretching too far simply for the sake of audience awe. The special effects were intended to further the story and impress the audience simultaneously.
Impressive screenplay and acting
On top of genuine CGI, I was gripped by the screenplay penned by virtual unknown Max Landis. Never once did the dialogue err on the side of cliché. It felt like genuine conversation between three normal, intelligent high school students suddenly thrust into an existence of supernatural abilities. This normalcy, I believe, was intended to promote the idea that average-Joes-turned-superheroes always had the option to trivially play around with their abilities on a day-to-day basis or even use them for evil. Thereʼs no code saying one is compelled to dawn a mask and ﬁght crime lords once blessed with super powers.
Another plus was the impressive acting by DeHaan, Russell and Jordan. DeHaan embodied Andrew with precision and quiet intensity. He reminded me of Hayden Christensen in the latest installment of “Star Wars,” only DeHaanʼs performance was of a much higher caliber. The direction was well choreographed by Josh Trank, who does well to manipulate multiple handheld cameras to capture each character, whether it is Andrewʼs own digital camcorder or iPhones of onlookers. I never felt out of the action.
I had high hopes for “Chronicle,” and I was pleased with its execution. It’d be interesting to learn how big of a budget it had and whether it purposefully left all of its most substantial and expensive thrills for the last 15 minutes. At times the plot development seemed inclined to take the safer, more intimate routes instead of supplying consistent excitement. Personally, I didnʼt mind this strategy at all. However, I could see many viewers complaining about this after walking into the theater expecting more action. I appreciated “Chronicle’s” apparent resistance to sacriﬁce substance for skirmish.