This January, a month traditionally reserved as a dumping ground for movies that neither fit in the mold for Awards season, nor are mainstream enough to be considered Summer blockbuster fare, have seen a few surprises show up. CHRONICLE joins the likes of WOMAN IN BLACK and THE GREY as a slightly offbeat, literate genre pieces, based on scripts well aware of the common tropes of its particular cinematic playground.
There are elements in CHRONICLE from a gazillion other films – the real-guy-as-Super Hero motif, the found footage shtick, and so on. The trailer itself makes it look absolutely dreadful, highlighting the work’s more visceral elements and in turn excising those parts that genuinely set the film above many of its ilk.
We’re introduced to Andrew (played by Dane “I’m an eerie clone of a young Leonardo DeCaprio” Dehane), filming himself via his bedroom door mirror. From outside the room we hear the shouts from his father, a retired firefighter who is drunk at 7am, trying to bust down the door. Andrew is using the new camera as a form of diary, taking it with him to school where we also witness the other forms of bullying he’s subjected to. With only his cousin Matt (Alex Russel) to talk to, a young man obsessed with the smatterings of existential and moral philosophy he’s gleaned between classes he has skipped, Andrew ends up feeling all the more miserable and lost.
Notably, the film is patient at this stage – we know from the conceit that there’s some big event that’s going to change their lives, but the films deliberate pace actually feels welcome here. Too often we have these introductory elements that are simply padding, but there’s real and effective character development during the films early moments that serve the work well.
When Alex is later dragged by Matt to a party, he encounters school president and super popular guy Steve (Michael B. Jordan, all grown up since his role as Wallace on THE WIRE), and they go to explore a mysterious hole. Deciding to clamber inside (as one is wont, especially on film) the encounter a spiky noodly thing that changes their lives.
Once this first act is over, the film continues its reluctance to immediately jump into the conventions of the genre. The film continues to build as the powers of the three mature, and we’re treated to a number of moments that underlie just how much damn fun it’d be to have these powers. A particularly effective scene of them flying where they bundle up against the effects of the freezing conditions of the atmosphere, not to mention the airplane that almost takes them out, are great little touches.
When things really go to hell, the film has pretty much earned its right to give us on screen mayhem. We see motivation for both “good” and “bad” guy, there’s a level of respect for the audience that in these shades of grey we can still find a solid grounding of an archetypical tale. Beside some glaring issues of inconsistency (not entirely sure how you can survive having a bus thrown at you but be felled by an equally material object), the bang-em-up ending, much of which was the source for aforementioned advertisements, does provide a welcome moment of cathartic, all out action.
CHRONICLE is a film slightly more clever than it has any expectation to be, and the fact that it’s being released as a studio project belies the fact that this has all the hallmarks of an indie sci-fi film like MOON or DISTRICT 9. The CGI isn’t top notch, there’s no gloss to the work, and no big name actor to bring in the masses.Yet there are moments of originality, from an exploding spider to a floating camera POV style that (almost) always plays by its own contrivance. At the least, major bonus marks for not going the turgid BLAIR WITCH route and using shakey cam as a miserable excuse for grittiness.
For those open to the film, going in with moderated expectations, CHRONICLE is a decent little flick. Sure to annoy the adolescent audience demanding nothing but wall-to-wall action, this instead is an introspective, at times quite nihilistic take on the subgenre, a pleasant surprise for something that looked at the outset to be absolute drivel.