Now more than ever, we are a culture obsessed with all things ‘super’ - superheroes, the supernatural and the superhuman – and fascinated by anything and everything just out of our reach. This is nothing new; for centuries, humanity has feared and worshipped the unreal and sought to create gods (or devils) among men. From Egyptian underworlds to Ray Bradbury’s tragic, dazzling short stories exploring the outer reaches of space, we love to see something truly wondrous and terrifying, often one and the same.
For moviegoers, this means that with each new technological advance in filmmaking, we are exposed to eye-opening, jaw-dropping, computer-generated worlds. As special effects grow more and more complex, story is often left by the wayside for the next ‘big’ thing. For the past few years, one of the more major trends has been superheroes. Of course, there are exceptions to this; The Avengers and Christopher Nolan’s Batman series both brought starkly real characters to their super-worlds, however different their approaches. Others, however, ballooned to budgets of $200 million only to give us inflated, one-dimensional characters and cartoonish visuals.
Amongst the Marvel and DC characters came a quieter superhero movie this year, a movie that just barely squeaks by the genre definition, and demonstrated that stripped away effects are just as, well, effective. Chronicle, a film that cost only $12 million to make, comes from the minds of two writer/directors in their twenties: Josh Trank and Max Landis. The story is so simple and, at times, so obvious, that it’s a wonder it works.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell), and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), camera in hand, stumble down a deep trench in the middle of the woods and discover something that grants them some… unusual abilities. Trank and Landis use the 'found footage' style made popular by The Blair Witch Project and, more recently, the Paranormal Activity movies, without the usual scare tactics.
Andrew films vignettes of his life with a handi-cam, a barrier he creates between himself and the world. The film begins with images of his mother on her deathbed, his abusive, alcoholic father, and the barrage of ruthless school bullies. The ‘found footage’ style is rarely jarring; as the boys begin to experiment with their newfound telekinesis, they do what any teens their age would do: they document it, extensively.
Each one of the boys represents a unique aspect of how one might adapt to superhuman powers. Steve greets the experience with boyish delight, oozing with the confidence and thrill that comes naturally to a well-adjusted, “popular” kid. Matt, the young intellectual spouts Jung quotes and is the first one to insist upon rules: don’t use the powers on people, or when you’re angry. His play at seeming mature belies a morality and strength that serves him later. His cousin, Andrew, is Chronicle’s catalyst. He films himself in the mirror, deep bags under his eyes and the sudden thud of his father pounding his bedroom door. Dane DeHaan plays him as a powerhouse, a harrowing soul who, even as he pulls you down with him, garners your empathy.
Chronicle is a smooth union of light and dark, of three boys playing at superheroes and the inevitable weight that follows. From moving legos and performing telekinetic pranks to delicately learning to fly, the exploration of their powers leads each of the boys down very specific paths. Rather than creating larger-than-life heroes and villains, Chronicle is a slow burn. Andrew’s very small and very real pain is only magnified by the precise, brute strength of his power.
Chronicle is an honest and straightforward effort. At times the filmmakers wear their influences on their sleeve – fans of teen angst and superpowers will appreciate the tonal similarities to classic anime film, Akira. Still, the two manage dive deep into a tortured psyche while making the movie a fun, electrifying ride. Coupled with stripped-down effects, the story builds to a crescendo that blows most recent blockbusters out of the water – cars overturned, an epic battle between hero and anti-hero, and the pure isolation that comes with such a gift, and a curse.
For Fans Of: Akira, X-Men, Cloverfield
Why We Like It: strong character development, impressive sci-fi, well-written and carefully crafted, “I can fly!”
'Chronicle' is available for purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD Tuesday, May 15th, 2012.