Back after a long delay to Turkey. Quite the trip and I managed to catch a film in the cinemas there – Yeralti – which I’ll post about shortly.
But first, an airline film. Chronicle is that film you’ve all seen the preview of: kids with superpowers, first person, handheld camera, kid sitting Indian-style and facing the camera crushes a car in the background telepathically.
There’s one good thing about Chronicle: it accurately reflects how fast allegiances can shift in high-school. The main character Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a nerd (though very good-looking…more on that later). He’s bullied in high-school, but when he uses his newfound superpowers at the talent show – in one of the best scenes of the film – he’s suddenly popular. That’s how it goes when you’re 17. And then when he throws up before having sex at a party he’s suddenly a outcast again.
Unfortunately for Chronicle that’s about the only good thing. Here’s a laundry list of problems with it, starting with the casting:
The acting isn’t particularly bad, it’s just annoying. DeHaan plays the outcasted Andrew well, but his eyes are so strikingly blue, his hair flipped just so, that you can practically hear the casting director prior to finding their man: “He’s got to be skinny, you know, so he can be a nerd, but he can’t be ugly, because we don’t want to alienate our audience. They need to find him sympathetic, but believe that he doesn’t fit in.” It’s so annoying – where’s the pimply-faced wimp that is the butt of high-school jokes in reality? It’s so Hollywood-ized – this fear of showing an unattractive person as the lead.
The script is another huge problem. For one, there’s a character – Andrew’s cousin, the better-looking, more popular Matt (Alex Russell) who spouts absurdly hilarious (unintentionally so), on-the-nose philosophy. He’s the jock with a heart. The cool guy with brains. And his lines are so unbelievable. Annoying.
Then there are some huge beats that are just breezed over. Remember that moment in the trailer when Andrew makes a random car go over the guardrail and into a lake? If not, you can see it here at 1:13:
It’s supposed to be a turning point. Here, Andrew goes over the edge. His friends are angry at him. But then they just accept him again within a few short scenes. I mean, this guy tried to murder some random people and everything’s just fine again? No dice.
Andrew’s relationship with his dying mother and abusive father is also too heart-string-pulling to be believable. I get it: he’s really a good guy at heart. I get it: this is all a metaphor for puberty and high-school angst. I get it: his super powers are actually akin to his understanding of a tough reality. But I don’t like it. Too obvious, too overstated.
But here’s the biggest problem with this film – and anyone who has seen it and has read this blog can probably guess what I’m going to say. It’s the aesthetics, the presentation of all of this as a first-person camera, as shot mostly by Andrew, and partially by Matt’s eventual girlfriend, Casey (Ashley Hinshaw).
Okay, so some people will probably say, “It’s over-analysis. Leave the form alone. It was a fun film.” Fine. But not really. Here’s the problem – the first-person camera doesn’t add anything. And it’s used illogically.
The film is full of jump cuts. Who edited it? Then there’s the scene where Matt and Casey interact in her doorway. Andrew isn’t there to shoot it, but the camera is behind them in her house. Is it her camera? Did she really just shoot him knocking on her door? Doesn’t make sense. And what about the small zooms in the above-mentioned car crash scene? That means that one of the characters who also has super-powers Steve (Michael B. Jordan) is actually zooming in stylishly while shooting a tragic, shocking event? Sure…that makes a whole lot of sense.
More: there’s other footage strewn throughout. The climactic fight scene features security camera views and helicopter POVs. Who obtained this footage?
The camera floating is explained by Andrew’s ability to make it hover using his powers, but when he falls – as he does many times towards the end of the film – shouldn’t the camera also fall with him?
The literal camera in Chronicle so wants to be a “lonely boy and his camera,” “the boy who can’t relate to anyone who talks to himself,” “self-reflexivity in filmmaking,” but by straying from its originally established logic (everything is shot by Andrew and Casey, this is a “chronicle” of the events) it warps that attempt. Recent films like After-School and 7 Chronologies of a Fragment of Chance are much more successful in their interpretations of media obsession in a nihilistic, teen-angsty/violent world. Director Josh Trank’s usage is just capitalizing on a Blair Witch/Cloverfield craze that adds nothing to the overall narrative.
In fact, Chronicle would probably be better were it shot objectively, would be more logical, and wouldn’t feel yield some pretty excruciating direct-to-camera “performances.”
I really don’t like this movie. At all. And the more I think about it the less I like it.