Review: Small Budget Superhero Flick 'Chronicle' Packs A Punch
It’s certainly easy to become fixated on the, at turns both clever and cloying, found footage device employed in Josh Trank’s "Chronicle." There are absolutely some holes and awkward, forced moments that feel like a stretch, and if you let those little inconsistencies nag at you, they will. And do. But resist that temptation, suspend disbelief just for a hot second and what you’ll find you’re left with is a complex and engaging film that grapples intelligently with the eternal struggle of good and evil, wish fulfillment, and the moral culpability of super powers discovered by teenagers.
Basic premise: three dudes that are kind of friends, and sometimes cousins, stumble upon an ominous and perhaps radioactive (Who knows? It’s never explained.) hole in the ground a few feet from the “rave” they’re attending one night. I’m not sure that raves are a thing of the present tense anymore, but regardless, as a result they reap powers of a superhuman nature: telekinesis and the ability to fly. Sure it can also be argued that the ability to fly is derived from telekinesis. Semantics.
Now. First the problems. Yes, relying on found footage can be distracting. Pimping this device as an ambitious adventure in style experimentation on Trank’s part perhaps wasn’t the most strategic move, because then what grows, fungus-like in the consciousness of the audience is an obsession with monitoring its effectiveness. Its execution, at times, verges on brilliant. To have Andrew develop his telekinesis to film everything is a stroke of genius. In addition to the potential logisitical problems it solves, it also opens up a sort of parallel/metaphorical level that deals with Andrew’s psyche and the mobility of ever-developing powers of telekinesis and photography direction. Yet, there will certainly be moments where you’ll find yourself thinking, ‘Um, no, I don’t buy it.’ Most of these little thorn-in-side moments are minor and are totally surmountable. Like, hm, no I don’t think that a police chief would set up a camera on a tripod to monitor a suspect in a coma, and then have some sort of expositional, floating diagetic voice-over without character context, or a body explain what’s happening. Jarring? Yes, but, in the grand scheme, no big whoop.
The biggest whoop(sie-daisy) is Casey: love interest of Matt Garretty. She also happens to be a compulsive chronicler (hey that’s the name of the movie!), and like Andrew, always has a camera in tow. Because how else could we could we watch their awkward, stilted “relationship” develop? No. Lame. My larger issue with her is much that she just feels like an afterthought: a character that was inserted as the result of an exec’s note. Her development is sporadic, uneven, and purposeless. She doesn’t bring anything out of Matt. She… I don’t know. She just feels like filler. Because…
By far, the greatest strength of this flick is the character development. Although, at its core, this is a superhero movie, adhering to that narrative structure, it isn’t about superheroes. It’s about three guys. The havoc that these super powers wreak on them, and the way they manifest everything is plausible given their origins. While Andrew veers toward the darkness, he still remains sympathetic, given his drunk and abusive father, and the relentless bullying he receives at school. Vengeance? Sure. Who wouldn’t in his shoes? And though we know less about the other two, their POVs still feel plausible. Because the character development is so strong, when the plot veers strongly in the fantastical, superhero direction, it works.
Dane DeHaan delivers a killer performance as Andrew: the tortured artist. First of all, dude is HOT. He is reminiscent of my high school Leonardo DiCaprio fixation, circa Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet, which was probably around 1996. There used to be perforated postcards from the movie in like Seventeen and YM of him that I’d punch out and put in my locker. Anyway, Dane looks JUST like Leo did then, but the sex appeal is dialed down so skillfully and appropriately for Andrew. Plus he brings a level of nuance to the role that is so ineffable that I have failed to describe it. Point, DeHaan.
Above and beyond all the little pros and cons, this little engine that could ($15M budget) packs quite a punch. It manages both a visceral and raw emotional reaction and relatability which is quite a tall order. I won’t embarrass myself by discussing the special effects because that is so outside my wheelhouse, but damn all of it felt real. More than that, though, the reason this movie kicks ass is the same reason any good television or film works. It just feels true. So go see it on February 3rd when it opens. And get over trying to find the holes in the ‘found footage.’