March 5, 2012

This almost slipped under my radar and I’m so very glad it didn’t.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’d had two margaritas and an espresso right before going to see this, so I was a bit overstimulated.  That may have influenced my reaction a bit.  So, without further ado:


Ahem.  Well.  Yes.  Okay, where to even start.  There’s a scene where our would-be, somewhat accidental supervillain is suiting up for his first heist, in his disabled abusive father’s old firefighting rig, with “Ziggy Stardust” playing in the background, and I thought:  This is the closest thing to Wild Cards I’ve seen in the movies, ever.  Real world characters, real world setting, consequences extrapolated.  Also, the best extrapolation of how telekinesis might actually work.  Like, what would teenage boys with teke actually do with it?  (Hint:  you probably won’t guess right, unless you’re a teenage boy.)  Some great effects in there.

It was an entire day later I started thinking about tropes and predictability and all that, because the story here is pretty inevitable, pretty predictable, but it’s a good example of how handling familiar tropes in a competent and stylish way makes them fresh again.  This movie doesn’t have a wasted second.  No long scenes of angst, nobody explaining anything that everybody already knows.  Rapid jumps between scenes, late in/early out, and the audience is expected to keep up.  And you do, because it makes sense, and the film’s not going to insult your intelligence by explaining tropes that it knows you already know.  It’s short.  It’s punchy.  It doesn’t have a studio committee’s fingerprints all over it.  Hallelujah.

Some people are calling this a “found footage” movie, but it’s not, really.  There’s no opening scroll describing how this tape was “found” and how what you’re seeing is “real.”  The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield are the two examples of “found footage” that I’m most familiar with, and the limitations of the technique are painfully apparent in both — the contrivances they have to go to tell an entire story from a single camera’s point of view, especially long after a panicking cameraperson in the real world would have just dropped the damn thing and run.  Chronicle is aware of those limitations, and so jettisons them:  it’s “natural” footage, not found.  It doesn’t limit itself to one camera.  We have a video blogger’s footage, various security footage, news footage, police interrogation footage, all of it built into a collage that gives the movie the feel of a documentary.  And the primary camera, Andrew’s camera, is an extension of Andrew himself, and becomes our omnipotent narrator when Andrew’s powers grow epic.  The first time we see Andrew, he’s standing in front of a mirror, with the camera — we meet them both at the same time.  Which is great, because when else in a found footage movie do you ever get to see the camera?  So both sets of eyes are reflected in the mirror, looking right at us, and Andrew says, “From now on, I’m recording everything,” and this tells you that Andrew’s mental breakdown has already begun, before the superpowers actually come along.  The superpowers are almost incidental, and like all great superpower stories, this isn’t about the powers — it’s about the characters.  The powers force the characters in the alignments they were already headed toward in the first place.

I was in tears at the end of this, not just because of the melancholy finish, but because my faith in interesting cinema has been restored.  I totally didn’t expect that.

(Since writing this initially I’ve learned that screenwriter Max Landis is, in fact, John Landis’s son.  John Landis, who wrote An American Werewolf in London.  Good writing isn’t genetic, but it does make me go huh.)


I find myself wanting to see this exact same movie, but with three girls, because I don’t think it would change very much.  At least, if I were going to do it with three girls I wouldn’t change it very much.  Wouldn’t that be fun?


6 Responses to “Chronicle”

  1. sef Says:

    Yes, it was an awesome movie, I thought. One of very few movies to shock me with how much better it was than my expectations.

    I compared it to ST:TOS’s “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and it came out generally better. (I’ve seen it compared to Carrie, and I don’t think it’s that at all.)

    There were some moments in it — around the middle — where I was smiling with the pure joy the characters were experiencing. And the unravelling of that was set up from the beginning.

    I like superhero movies where the writer has thought about what would really happen. I think they did here.

    Max Landis also has a ~10 minute film summarizing “The Death and Rebirth of Superman” that’s great.

  2. TJ Erickson Says:

    I hadn’t considered his decision to film everything so much as the beginning of his breakdown, but as the need for a witness, or a friend.
    It makes me want to watch it again, and see if your views change my opinion of the movie, which were, essentially, that the movie loses some energy and momentum to the ‘found footage’ medium. Otherwise, it is indeed amazingly good.

  3. sef Says:

    Yeah, I wouldn’t call it the beginning of his breakdown; I think that had already been happening. But it set up everything that happened, including what became his obsession with being watched. (Which then allowed them to do the amazing scenes at the end.)

    I also thought: Wow, I’m glad the Akira movie is dead, because this did it perfectly.

    (What can I say, I liked the movie so much I get a bit giddy about it. I’m very much looking forward to the home-video release, in the hopes that there’s a very good director’s commentary track.)

  4. LupLun Says:

    Inevitability is a good word for it. I found that the power of the film is in exactly how predictable it all is. You know where it’s going right from the start, and it’s that knowledge that makes the story so heartbreaking.

    I also loved seeing them play around with their “found/natural footage” gimmick near the end. When did the world become so wired?

  5. carriev Says:

    I guess what I’m thinking is that *something* triggered Andrew to start filming, whether it was stress, or abuse, or need for a witness, or something. He’s already in trouble, and the powers don’t trigger that, they exacerbate it. The powers didn’t actually change him, you know? They just made it impossible to save him…

    I’ve heard the Akira comparison in other places…it’s been too long since I’ve seen Akira to recognize it. Maybe I need to!

  6. Sean Eric Fagan Says:

    Andrew started filming because his life was pretty messed up: dying mother, abusive (physically and emotionally) father, social outcast. Filming let him feel like he had some control.

    And that need for control ran through the entire rest of the movie. He was the strongest of the three, because his superpower was another thing he needed to control; similarly, he snapped when he lost control. This happened several times, but the biggest (of course) was after his attempted crime.

    With or without the powers, he was broken. What made the movie a tragedy is that he had a brief period where his life could have gone in a completely different direction, and it didn’t because of his choices.

    (Again, I said I liked this movie a whole lot. :))

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