Published on February 12th, 2012 | by Matthew Gildea3
Chronicle – Review
Found-footage films tend to be quite interactive in the way they’re shot, because we’re constantly on the protagonists’ level. We don’t worry about missing particular events, or not understanding what is going on, because we are, in a sense, the protagonist. No, we don’t make any decisions or have any influence on the direction of the film. How could we? But we feel closer to the characters because we can see life through their eyes, and Chronicle wants us to see what the life of Andrew Detmer is like.
Andrew is a bit of a loner, not really having any friends apart from his cousin Matt. His mum is ill, and his dad is a violent alcoholic. His only solace is his camera, which acts as his barrier from the world. It’s quite easy to see why Andrew’s life is hard, especially as he goes through the ever-judgmental high school period. And it’s these life traumas that play on Andrew’s confidence and mental stability, as he struggles his way past the bullies, his father and his own self-depreciation.
And so, Detmer trudges along with his camera in tow, filming all aspects of his everyday life. From his dad’s drunken rages to being bullied at school, there’s nothing going on in Andrew’s life that would lead him to put the camera, his shield, down. The turning point arrives though at a rave that Matt takes him to, where after being attacked by your typical loudmouth bully, he’s approached by Steve, a popular school quarterback with a keen eye for politics. Steve and Matt have found something, and they need Andrew to film it.
In a dark hole in the woods, there’s a noise, and as Hollywood likes to remind us, nothing is more enticing to an American teenager than a dark, risky endeavor down an unknown hole in the middle of nowhere without any idea of what is inside. And so they go down, despite Andrew’s reluctance. Once inside, they find a glowing ‘thing’.
This glowing thing has given them powers. Moving things with their minds; flying at high altitudes and being able to withstand blunt-force are just a few of the tricks they possess, and the boys slowly build up their abilities through typical trial and practice. Moving Lego, then a car, it becomes clear that Chronicle wants to portray the learning curve of these powers, instead of the usual Hollywood mastering of such skills upon possession. The only problem is that it becomes just another clichéd story, despite its attempts to dispel that.
Everything from the high school and party experiences, the admittance that they’re becoming too powerful and need to quell their usage, and the obvious descent into darkness for our character who bows to the mental extremities he has endured, is clichéd. There are times that you want to appreciate just what the film has changed in comparison to the usual conventions of Hollywood; superpower wielding teens that didn’t go out saving the world. They did what teenagers would do; they had fun.
But then as we watch Andrew’s demise; it becomes a story of a boy-Hulk having a strop, where anyone in his path is at risk. There is the obvious sense that the film has built this up from the beginning, with various deciding factors in Andrew’s life pushing him over the edge, but with an interesting script that chose to change so many of the generic offerings from filmmakers, it’s a shame they resorted to the usual action packed enigma-lacking finale that culminates in a fairly satisfying action film, but one which cannot compete with big-budget monsters like Transformers. It is one of the more entertaining new entrances into Hollywood, with a very talented group of young stars and a new genre hybrid that differentiates itself enough from the likes of Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. But whilst wanting to push boundaries with what they were trying, they succumbed to the generic Hollywood mould, with little deviation from a rather linear and predictable plot.
That said, it has opened up the door for future films to try out new hybrid genres that have so far been limited. Found-footage is fast becoming a film-favourite, and Chronicle’s use of multiple camera perspectives from different protagonists gives a nice alternative to the one perspective view we usually receive, even if it was a little forced with a second filmmaking character. This is a positive step forward for the safety-conscious studios, and could open up the coffers of reluctant executives to new daring concepts and genre-mashes that would see a change in the usual safe and saturated franchises.
With the film not resolving the origin of the superpowers, you’d expect a sequel on the horizon. But the film doesn’t lend itself to that model, and any future addition to this franchise would simply become Chronicle: Rewritten. There can’t be a sequel that doesn’t retread the same premise, and so we’re stuck. What happened in that hole? Was it alien technology, was it human experiment or was it a Hollywood cop-out? Unfortunately, we won’t ever find out, and if we do, it’ll be at the expense of our own satisfaction.
Summary: An interesting take on the found-footage genre, but ultimately one that descends into chaos and ignores all of its buildup as it reaches an underwhelming climax.