Review: Chronicle

Chronicle is a very modern example of the changing face of cinema, and hopefully an indicator for what’s to come. It adopts the increasingly popular found footage style, where every shot comes from video cameras, cell phones, security cameras, police dashboard cameras, etc… and all of that is then presented as a cohesive narrative. This stylistic choice gives the film a sense of reality and objectivity that while false, helps it from coming across as a naked power fantasy. The title alone should give insight into the intent of the filmmakers:

Generally a chronicle (Latinchronica, from Greek χρονικά, from χρόνος, chronos, “time”) is a historical account of facts and events ranged in chronological order, as in a time line. Typically, equal weight is given for historically important events and local events, the purpose being the recording of events that occurred, seen from the perspective of the chronicler. This is in contrast to a narrative or history, which sets selected events in a meaningful interpretive context and excludes those the author does not see as important.

 (via Wiki)

Like any documentary though, there is no real objectivity behind the lens; the inferred chronicler is quite opinionated.

Opening with Andrew, a troubled teenage loner, setting up his new video camera pointed at his bedroom mirror, the viewer is quickly introduced into the daily sorrow of the protagonist. His mother is slowly and painfully dying of an unnamed illness, his father is an out of work firefighter who deals with the emotional turmoil of caring for his spouse by drinking and being abusive to Andrew emotionally and physically. Immediately, the camera is a source of power for Andrew, a way that he can document the terrible things in his life so that there’s some separation between his life and what the lens records. Unfortunately for him, he seems unwilling to use that power of documentation to share with his friends, or some authority figure what he suffers from seemingly ever waking moment. Filled with shame, fear, and anger he’s unable to let people in on his pain.

This is sadly a common story. Although in this one, the guns and bombs are swapped out for telekinetic powers.

Andrew does have one real friend, his cousin Matt, who drives him to school, and tries to get him to socialize more. Attempting to do the latter, he drags Andrew to a rave in an abandoned barn. Matt isn’t exactly Mr. Popularity (that’s Steve the preppy athlete/scholar/student body president), but he’s more of the intellectually withdrawn archetype instead of a social outcast. His frequent quoting of philosophy texts, and aloof attitude don’t endear him to members of the opposite sex though. As the rave drags on, Matt and Steve rescue Andrew from wallowing in self-pity and tears to go check out an odd hole in the ground in the woods. They ostensibly want Andrew there to document it, but there’s a sense of kindness in their inclusion of him in their group that’s inescapable. The tragedy is that Andrew is so used to abuse that he suspects that it’s all a set up to just humiliate him further.

The hole in the ground emanates deep pulses of bass heavy sound, and with the help of the light from Andrew’s camera, they’re able to see it gives entry into a small cave system. A Freudian take on their experience in the cave is almost unavoidable, as they penetrate into the womb like cavern in the earth, find a strange object, and emerge changed to the very core of their being. The film leaves the strange object unexplained, but it’s from touching and interacting with it that they receive their telekinetic powers.

The next hour flies by as the trio bond over their growing power, with the tone of the film flipping to optimism, and teenage fun. Their powers are treated like gaining an additional muscle, so that it becomes more powerful with use, but overexertion results in nosebleeds. Among the three, Andrew has the most time to practice, and thus has the most control and power; his lack of social life is almost like a gym membership. The group bond is strong enough to pull him out of his shell a few times, but he defaults to being a loner. With all the fun and joy in this section of the film, it’s tempting to overlook the coming storm, but Andrew’s home life continues to deteriorate. To modify a famous phrase, with great power comes great irresponsibility.

A series of traumatic events hardens Andrew, breaking his newly formed social ties, and sending him down a path of authoritarianism. The abused becomes the abuser. This builds to a violent climax in downtown Seattle that is sober and sad in its treatment of the wanton destruction visited on the city, and the people in it. By sticking to the conventions of the found footage style, there are no grand sweeping shots of the action, no hero shots, and little in the way of glorification of the violence on-screen. When death comes for anyone in the film, it is brimming with tragedy, assholes included.

Chronicle isn’t afraid to let the images speak for themselves, but the story is simple enough that being actively engaged isn’t necessary  to enjoy the film. That said, there’s depth to the film that an active viewing will reward. From a litany of references to science fiction, anime, Greek myth, and more, to commentary on the lack of a functional healthcare system in the US, the film challenges the viewer to pay attention and think.

All that for only $15 million. That small budget leads to some slightly dated looking CGI, but that’s easy to forgive given what it achieves. If the long-delayed $200 million live action American adaptation of Akira is a tenth as good as Chronicle, I’ll be shocked.



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