It’s not often that a movie can escape my attention, and often times when they do, it is for good reason. Take Chronicle for example – until trailers for it started popping up about a month ago, I’d never heard a word about it. Even then, my impression was that it was the latest in a long line of turds about super-powered teenagers like Jumper or The Covenant destined for infamy in the discount bins, only this time taking advantage of the recent found footage trend. That is, until a cinephile friend of mine sung the praises of this film, having followed it since pre-production, and urged me to go see the premiere with him. Trusting his judgement, myself and a number of friends went with him to see it on opening night.
Will this tale of high-flying teens soar to new heights, it or is going to be a low budget shaky cam travesty you’ll see again in the five dollar bins? Ready yourselves my dear readers, this is, pardon the pun, my chronicle of Chronicle.
The story opens with teenager Andrew, deciding to record himself going about his daily life, which we see consists of his mom dying of cancer and his dad beating him at home, bullies harassing him at school, and his cousin Matt’s attempts to get him to come out of his shell. One effort to do so involves inviting him to a midnight rave, which leads to them, along with popular jock Steve, exploring a moonlight cave, and blacking out upon discovering something inside. We fast forward to see the three of them have gained telekinetic powers, and as most high-schoolers would, use it to amuse themselves, impress others, and right perceived wrongs – all leading to their lives spiraling out of control with tragic consequences for all.
To be brief, this has to be one of, if not the best handled superhero film I’ve seen in years, which given the glut of such films should speak volumes. The entire thing seems entirely within the realm of possibility, and takes it’s time in developing the plot, premise and characters. The set up of the characters makes each of them likable and relatable, and makes their rising powers all the more fascinating to watch. The way their new found powers is explained is believable, and grows gradually from messing with teddy bears and Lego’s, to flying across the planet and trashing Seattle. In every case, their triumphs and tragedies are enrapturing to watch unfold on screen.
Part of the appeal comes from the superb performances from the whole cast, all played by silver screen newcomers, and yet the acting is better then some blockbusters. Dane DeHaan steals the show as loner Andrew, and Micheal B. Jordon as charismatic Steve as well as Alex Russell’s turn as straight man Matt are both just as good. All are relatable in different ways, are played well enough to feel real, and react as normal people might to the situation, which makes the audience really care for their ultimate fates and fortunes. It also helps that rather then run off and become superheroes, the characters choose to attempt to enrich their own lives with their new powers, and they don’t always succeed. You may not know who these three actors are, but given their performances here, you soon will.
As for the cinematography, it was marketed as Cloverfield with superheroes, but that fails to do the movie justice. With everybody making found footage films these days, it should mean a great deal that this may be the best of such films since Blair Witch Project, maybe even Cannibal Holocaust itself. A big part of that is that rather than rely on gimmicks or camera tricks like many of them do these days, it depends on a great story and script and it’s relatable characters who react realistically to their situation, and rather than hold back what it can show, the ever present cameras give us a fascinating window into this world. The scene work is great as well, with every scene providing details and development, and a number leaving an impact – one in particular is when one of the characters uses his powers to tear an insect limb from limb, smile creeping over his face, providing a hint at what is to come. Even better, the special effects are superb, and ranging from the flight scenes to the finale battle that trashes Seattle, it all looks very real, and makes a lot of CGI enhanced blockbusters look like the ones on a shoestring budget. Given that they are handled by some of the folks behind District 9, that is no shocker.
Overall, Chronicle is the first film of 2012 I’ve seen that really knocked my socks off, better than all but a handful of films I saw last year. Despite, or perhaps because of its lack of star power and big budgets, the acting and special effects are superbly handled and very well done, and the story is a splendid mixture of a creative superhero origin story and a sci-fi fantasy. This movie has come from nowhere to be the first great film of the year, and it demands your attention ASAP. My friends and I who went to see it are going to go back with more people to see it again, and I whole-heartedly endorse you to do the same.