Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: Josh Trank
Now let’s get something straight, we talk about super hero films a lot on this website and apologies if you feel like that we overload with this genre at times. But after seeing Chronicle for the first time last night I felt something had to be said about this rather surprisingly good movie. However, it’s not strictly a super hero film… but we’ll get to that.
The film came out last year and did pretty well at the box office making 22 million worldwide which is double what it cost to make and has gone onto to gross 64 million in total. Now these numbers aren’t always an indicator of quality but it’s nice to see a film (which is also an original story by Max Landis) doing so well up against the big budget action movies we see on a monthly basis these days.
The story focuses on Andrew (DeHaan), his cousin Matt (Russell) and their friend Steve (Jordan) who after discovering an alien artifact in a hole in the ground find themselves granted with strange powers. They can move objects with their minds and after a time they learn how to fly. The plot is driven by Andrew (wee see the film through a camera he carries everywhere with him) and how is bad life experiences including being bullied, having an alcoholic Father and a dying Mother drive him to use his new powers in a more anarchic way than his friends. Initially the three use their object moving skills for fun and practice them as a group. Soon though Andrew begins to feel alienated and wronged by his life once more and retreats within himself and begins to focus on improving his skill with the powers he has. Matt and Steve are too concerned with the affairs of ordinary high school life and after a while Andrew grows stronger than them both. Ultimately Andrew’s chaotic life throws his mental state off balance and he begins to use his powers in a destructive way calling Matt and Steve to action to try and stop Andrew but also save him before he harms himself or anyone else.
It’s safe to say we get a lot of hand held camera movies these days and for the most part the camera element works to point out the flaws of a film rather than to aid them in a positive manner. Chronicle subverts this however and uses cameras in general rather skilfully. Andrew carries a camera and films his day to day life as a means of having a friend, a bit like Tom Hanks with Wilson in ‘Castaway’. It acts as catharsis for him amidst the everyday turmoil he has to face. Andrew often floats his camera above him while he lies in bed practicing with his abilities, from this we see his raw emotive state and how he begins to fall apart through the film’s course. Sometimes there are scenes involving Andrew’s camera and Hinshaw’s Casey who also likes to document life with a camera, these scenes then flit between the two perspectives catching characters from different angles in the same scenarios. In one scene Andrew drags several peoples phones and cameras though a window and we flit from each one as they hovers around him in mid-air. The film also doesn’t profess to be found footage being used in a CIA investigation like in ‘Paranormal Activity’. It is merely there as an art form and it works quite well.
The look of the film isn’t too polished either the special effects are quite grainy and at times slightly poor but this aids the surreal element of the film well. We are supposed to invest in the film as a realist grounding of a super hero film that embraces both elements of fantasy and realism which Trank does quite well. It might be said that Andrew ‘loses his shit’ a bit too much towards the end of the film. I mean yes he gets bullied and yes his Mother dies but it does feel like Trank trying to show why people turn evil when simply you don’t just turn evil there are always underlying psychological issues at hand other than just what can be seen by a camera. Andrew’s transformation is a bit too Hollywood and actually detracts from the very good character work we see throughout the film’s narrative.
This aspect aside though the film works really well as a subversion of the super hero genre. Trank here saying that you can create something emotionally and visually effective on a modest budget and that you don’t simply need to chuck millions of dollars into special effects and dress an A- list celebrity up in spandex to make a film about people who transfer into the realms of the ‘super powered’ successful.
Ironically Chronicle hasn’t acted in the way it was intended, instead of being a big “fuck you’ to Marvel and DC it has actually acted as a calling card. Josh Trank has been commissioned to re-boot Marvel’s attempt at The Fantastic Four and is apparently rumored to be working on a stand-alone Venom movie as well. Dane DeHaan has been cast in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as Harry Osbourne who one day succeeds his Father to become spidey’s arch nemesis The Green Goblin. Michael B. Jordan is set to defy racial stereotypes and portray Johnny Blaze a.k.a The Human Torch in The Fantastic Four AND Chronicle 2 has also been rumoured to be in production with a potential plot line following Matt as he becomes an actual super hero.
All in all it really is an interesting film in a cinematic sense. Visually it stands out from anything you’ve seen and will be most likely looked back at as having launched the careers of Trank, DeHaan and Jordan as stars and big name players in big box office movies. If you’re looking for something a bit different that defies the kind of narrative you normally have rammed down your throat then Chronicle will be just the thing for you. It’s by no means perfect but there is something quite compelling about that.