CINEMA: by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
Nihilism filtered through teen angst
, March 31, 2012
Chronicle (rated M), starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan. Reviewed by Symeon Thompson.
Chronicle is an interesting, if not terribly uplifting, foray in the form of a “found footage” film, in which three sort-of friends gain superpowers and then must deal with the effect these have upon their lives.
It is distinctive in its clever take on that pseudo-documentary form of movie that has become popular among independent filmmakers, especially since it’s quite clear that it has a much bigger budget. Letting it down, however, is its somewhat gloomy and clichéd take on life and its lack of a grand vision to go with its grand visuals.
Andrew Detmar (Dane DeHaan) is an awkward and isolated high-school student. His mother is dying and his father is an aggressive alcoholic.
His only friend is his cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), a philosophy-spouting, decent enough fellow who wants to do well by his cousin, but finds it difficult at times, due to Andrew’s problems with people. Andrew has taken to filming everything that happens in his life as a way to cope.
Andrew gets into a fight with someone at a high-school barn-rave, as a result of his constant videoing. He retreats outside until Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), the star quarter-back and all-round good guy, finds him and brings him along to film a strange “something” that’s been found in the nearby woods.
Dane DeHaan (left), Michael B. Jordan
and Alex Russell in Chronicle.
The three teenagers descend into a cavern to discover a large, glowing, crystal-like thing around which there are many weird goings-on. They just escape from the cave, when it starts to collapse, and discover the next day that they have developed superpowers. The rest of the movie concerns their experiments with their powers and the impact that these have upon their lives and values, for better and for worse.
Stylistically, Chronicle is a refreshing change from the low-budget, shaky camera, nausea-inducing, stock standard “found footage” film. Part of the freshness comes from the reason that the cameras are rolling in the first place.
The youths are not off hunting witches; nor is their house haunted; nor are aliens invading. The constant documenting comes from the protagonist trying to make sense of his everyday life, and not from the usual sensationalist set-up. This grants the audience a richer perspective on the characters’ lives, with a view to reinforcing the ordinariness of those lives.
As well as this, the movie is not limited to the footage shot by Andrew and his friends. Any “natural” source of documentary footage, such as security cameras and other videoing types, such as the video-blogging Casey Letter (Ashley Hinshaw), is also used.
The premise of the movie, telekinetic superpowers, also allows for more grandiose computer-generated imagery (CGI) stunts than is the norm for this genre, including more spectacular camerawork. Sadly, this increased sophistication of special effects and cinematography does not lead to a similar sophistication in characters and motivation, and it is here that the film breaks down.
If we look at the characters in Chronicle and their motivations, we can see how distinct they are from the standard Hollywood superhero. These are apparently “ordinary” blokes who suddenly gain extraordinary powers. They are not the best, nor the brightest, nor the most noble, nor the most virtuous specimens of humanity. They are profoundly “normal” folk, or at least that is what we are meant to believe.
In picking these characters, and these settings, the filmmakers are making particular claims about humanity. Ayn Rand, for all her quite definite faults and insanities, was spot on when she said, “Art is the selective recreation of reality according to the artist’s metaphysical value judgements.”
In the case of Chronicle, the selections recreated conform to a bleak “naturalism” that emphasises the sordidness of everyday life. It is little more than an inversion of the typical Hollywood fantasy, and, as such, is just as unreal. While the characters and their backgrounds may be atypical for a superhero film, they are stereotypical for the sort of “kitchen sink” realism that is so beloved of film festivals and funding bodies. This approach is most noteworthy for the way that it confuses dirt for depth, and grime for gravitas.
The film has little profound to say about the human condition — unless one considers nihilism filtered through teen angst to be profound — because the characters have no profundity in their understanding of the world.
There are those who like the film, finding that it resonates with their own understanding of the world, and for many out there, that may be the case. All that shows is just how much we have lost of our sense of the tragedy and grandeur of the human condition; of how we have reduced our lives to blind chance and biological determinism.
Chronicle is a clever exercise in the cynicism common to our age — one with deadbeat depression dressed in a superhero costume, and shot on digital video, rather than for the old silver screen.