Movie Review: Chronicle
Chronicle was one of those flicks you watch and imagine what it could have been if only the concept, characters and actors had been in the hands of someone else. You yearn for the potential film you almost saw.
It’s your typical superhero origin story, except the heroes aren’t terribly heroic. They acquire super-powers in a mysterious glowing cave near a “rave” in the woods surrounding Seattle. I dug the Pacific Northwest shout-out, spotting our brand of coastal forests long before the space needle graced the screen.
Side note: Do people still go to “raves?”
Anywho – regular people get extraordinary powers and use them in the fashion you would imagine ordinary folks to do. They goof around in thrill seeking escapades, impressing classmates and using parlor tricks to hook up with ladies. Then, the bad seed goes nuts and gets in a knock down, drag out, levitated fight in the middle of downtown Seattle.
Absolute power corrupting absolutely is a classic tale, but one rarely told from a realistic perspective, from average dudes at your typical American High School. We are treated to all the joy and mystery of discovering human flight and telekinesis. And the horror of realizing these powers could harm or kill others. There were bits of moral pondering thrown in, but it was a little lost in the muddle of the story. I didn’t buy the philosophical quoting.
What didn’t jive well? The shaky hand cam style.Yes, it’s a cheaper way to film and also a commentary on how much we “chronicle” our daily lives, but this kind of device gets old after a while if the plot is having to stretch to account for why we are viewing things with different camera angles. Suddenly, there are two people running around who must film absolutely everything. Or one character who feels obligated to pick up where the other left off.
When the characters are constantly, or at least consistently, commenting on the presence of the camera, it takes the audience out of the film. In no way did I believe this film was a real chronicle of these super powers. The ship of sincerely believing this is found camera footage sailed with The Blair Witch Project. But it’s been recycled again and again in what would otherwise be higher quality flicks:
And now, Chronicle.
District 9 almost fell into this trap. Near the beginning, we witness the filming of a documentary and interviews with friends, family and former co-workers of the central character, talking about a horrible tragedy which had befallen him. But, this facade melts away after the first 15 minutes and we are smack dab in the middle of the story, no shaky cam or faux documentary to be found. Towards the end of the film, the documentary footage closes out the story, giving it a nice end cap and raising more questions than it answers about the plot and character. It’s a device and a tool. Not a gimmick.
Chronicle didn’t need the shaky cam gimmick to be successful. In fact, it detracted from the story and the characters.
The acting and story were fairly well crafted. I appreciated the inclusion of a non-stereotyped character of color. He was the class president and most morally upright/likable dude of the bunch. The major trope surrounding him was his death, a disappointment but not a shocker. He WAS the only black character after all. 😛
Some wonky special effects, needless use of shaky cam and the general lack of women engaging with one another. It’s obviously a story about dudes (check the “Boys will be boys” poster tagline above), and I did appreciate that they included several female roles, though I couldn’t recall any of their names of the top of my head. There was a mom, two girlfriends and a potential hook-up. They skirted the token female shtick, but did not pass The Bechdel Test.
In general, I don’t mind shaky cam, when it is used to provide some good quality scares. It’s tough for conventional horror films to inspire those kinds of shocks you get on shaky cam. But there are ways to invoke our use of technology to record our lives, without entirely relying on it for all the visuals in a film or story.
Bechdel Test: “Chronicle” does not feature more than two female characters with names who converse about something other than men and therefore DOES NOT PASS the women test, DOES PASS the men test and does not feature more than two minority characters who have names, and speak to one another about something other than white people so it DOES NOT PASS the race test.