Chronicle is the first film this year I was genuinely looking forward to seeing in the theater.
I’ve always been drawn to origin stories, and after a glut of super hero films about characters I already know, it’s nice to see a film about supernatural individuals I haven’t met yet.
The film’s first scenes are a bit slow, even a bit boring. A few minutes in, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. These slow scenes depict a standard trope: The bullied kid. His life is tough, in and out of the house, he’s unpopular in school, and he’s seen as a bit of a weirdo, I get that, but I could have gotten that in a much shorter sequence than the nearly painfully long one I was forced to watch.
Andrew, the abused loner, played by Dane DeHaan, and his cousin Matt, the apathetic nonconformist played by Alex Russell, are outcasts and slackers, barely friends, and both a little awkward, though in different ways.
Andrew has picked up a camera, because his life apparently needs to be recorded. He brings the camera to a party he didn’t really want to attend, and everything is told through the presence of the camera, which commands scorn and frequent negative attention, forcing the audience to join Andrew on an overly awkward journey.
However, this melodramatic sequence is quickly made-up for, as the film picks up the action and more genuine drama. The movie truly begins with the introduction of Steve, played well by Michael B. Jordan. With his introduction, then the founding of their powers in the mysterious cave, the action picks up, and the behavior of the characters becomes an interesting and dynamic study of the way people deal with unexpected events, and sudden power, magical or otherwise.
At first, it seems as if things will finally turn around for Andrew, but as the situation worsens at home, his attitude turns desperate and his actions become drastic, rather than heroic, kicking off a long journey down a dark path.
The core of the story is the three friends, brought together by their strange powers, but tied to one another only tangentially, not really having much in common beyond the thing they have become, whatever it is. All three of the lead actors manage to draw out the characters well, creating a certain tension, and a flow that pulls us along by the nose. Occasionally, some conversations seemed badly ad- libbed, as if the director told the actors to just play it off while he rolled the camera, and the actors didn’t quite have the experience to make it work, but for the most part, I‘m able to really believe the characters are who they say they are, and allowing myself to become invested in them is not a challenge.
By the midpoint of the film, Andrew’s path is clear, and soon Matt must become the hero of the story by stopping Andrew before he becomes a terrible force of death and destruction. It's around this time that the style shifts to include footage from additional cameras, and this is where the style really shines.
The film takes no shortcuts, and while some of the cameras seem a bit contrived (Matt conveniently starts dating a girl who also carries a camera everywhere, so we can get some scenes away from Andrew, for example) it still sticks to its own rules, and we never see anything that couldn’t have been cut from a camera which was already there. Ultimately, this seems to be some sort of statement about the prevalence of video cameras in our society, though I think it’s only a side-effect of the chosen style.
In the end, the style didn’t really add much. I think the same story could have been told without relying on the mechanism, but it didn’t hurt anything either, and in the scenes where it was done properly, it makes for some interesting shots.
Overall, Chronicle does not disappoint. It takes all that raw power and potential and turns it into an emotional roundhouse kick which is truly moving and nearly overpowering. It’s not what I expected from the film going in, but I’m glad it went the direction it did, and I look forward to seeing more from this writer, Max Landis, and director, Josh Trank, as Chronicle launches them across Hollywood.