By Drew Turney
There wasn’t much advance buzz about this film. The trailer looked cool, but it also looked like the sort of movie where all the best stuff’s in the trailer, the rest a mess of overbaked ideas, bad acting and a flabby narrative.
Instead, it’s one of the most inventive films in ages, certainly of the camcorder footage craze Hollywood’s still in thrall to. In being about (and by) three kids, the filmmakers haven’t fallen into the trap of having either the kids or the way the movie treats itself behave any different than if it was all true.
It looks and feels like three normal kids experiencing this amazing phenomenon, and even the (occasionally jaw-dropping) special effects that would normally command beautiful wide shots are lensed with honesty and service to the set-up. The script makes the trio – particularly hero/antihero Andrew (DeHaan) – a little too teen-y at times with all his ‘likes’, ‘whatevers’ and other attempts to make it authentic, but it doesn’t stand out far enough to grate.
The premise actually makes it a close cousin to Peter Berg’s ”Hancock” even though the genres are nothing alike. If we had superpowers, it asks, what would stop us abusing them when the old consequences didn’t apply?
It’s what happens to shy Andrew, a kid who rides to school with his cooler cousin Matt (Russell) and couldn’t dream of being friends with the popular, funny Steve (Jordan). He’s recently started recording everything around him on his new videocamera, a symbolic gesture to put a barrier between himself and the world as someone suggests.
In doing so he captures his drunk father’s (Kelly) violent temper, his sick mother’s decline towards death, and the secret rave party Matt convinces him to go to. While there, Steve and Matt convince Andrew to accompany him to a mysterious hole in the ground out in the woods emitting deep booming noises. Despite Andrew’s fear he follows them to find a strange glowing object buried deep underground.
After some power overcomes them all, they wake up with apparent superpowers. Early scenes of throwing baseballs at each other, stabbing forks into hands with no effect and sliding a car across a mall parking lot have all the tearaway charm of any group of teenagers videoing themselves committing harmless pranks, but things take a nasty turn when Andrew forces a threatening driver off the road and into the lake where Matt and Steve only just pull him from his truck in time.
Amid newfound discoveries and strengthening talents (the first flying sequence is technically quite brilliant) Matt wants to establish rules about their behaviour. But Andrew, long picked on and finally with some strength to enjoy, doesn’t want to resist the lust for power. Amid menacingly crushing a car in a scrapyard and yanking teeth out of the school bully’s mouth in front of everyone, it’s a slippery slope to the final scenes of Matt and Andrew battling it out above the streets of Seattle, a fight that’s more like Superman and Zod in ”Superman II” than two school kids.
The acting is natural and the realistic style comes fairly easy to all three leads, an element that combines with the inventive camerawork to make the whole thing believable. The co-writers and director haven’t forgotten that even special effects movies are about people.
One of the most sure-footed moves is the visual structure of the camcorder conceit, which has none of the eye-rolling plotting about just why someone’s videoing all this. You know the one – there’s always a moment in found footage movies where someone says ‘for God’s sake put the camera down’. If they did, there’d of course be no movie, a problem they usually solve by some cack handed line about somebody having to document the truth about what’s happening.
”Chronicle” sidesteps the cliché by having the action shift between cameras so one character isn’t given the narratively ridiciulous task of recording the whole movie. Andrew’s camera captures most of the action, but the cute girl (another camera obsessive) Matt’s trying to impress contributes, as does police and security footage when it comes to the final battle.
It’s another mark of quality in a movie that avoids a genre full of pitfalls and ”Chronicle” is cool, entertaining, absorbing, a little thought provoking and the heart of good human sci-fi sits comfortably beside the eye-popping effects sequences we all love.