Friday, February 03, 2012

Chronicle: A Review

"Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system - with all these exalted powers - Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."

Charles Darwin

I am a fan of the the found-footage aesthetic, even when it is indulged in for completely spurious stylistic reasons. While I have not seen The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, I certainly enjoyed Cloverfield immensely. Maybe it does not work for everyone, but the persistent acknowledgement of the camera's eye adds a layer of realism which regular films lack - it's kind of like the visual equivalent of a first-person narrator versus a third-person omniscient one. It certainly helps that I am practically immune to motion sickness thanks to a lifetime of reading in moving vehicles and playing frenetic first person shooter video games.

One realisation I arrived at while watching Chronicle is how ubiquitous video cameras are in our daily lives. Practically everyone and their pet camel owns a camera phone or digital camera these days and it seems that every inch of everywhere has security cameras watching it. Found-footage films had, in the past, been criticised for "recording" events that they have no plausible access to but it's a complaint that, I feel, had gotten hollower and hollower over the years. With enough free time and clearance, it's conceivable that someone can stitch together a coherent chronicle of a series of just about any event at all.

The film was marketed as a Jackass-esque feature following the hilarious pranks and follies of three teenagers after they mysteriously gained telekinetic powers from a freak crystal accident (the narrative wisely chose to leave that angle grossly unexplained). They blew girls' skirts up, relocated parked cars, terrorised children at departmental stores - and then one of them caused a tailgater to swerve off-road into a lake, nearly killing the driver. Every group of high school friends always have that one guy who ruins the shits and giggles for everybody else, and Andrew is that one guy in Chronicle.

Spoilers will be running loose and amok from here onwards - because there's no point discussing any work of fiction using only vague allusions.

Chronicle poster
Does not reflect what the film is about at all.

Andrew is the protagonist of Trank and Landis' unconventional superhero story. He is pretty much that weirdo kid in American Beauty who carried a video camera everywhere and obsessively filmed everything - but with an abusive stay-at-home father and a mother dying from Vague Hollywood Terminal Illness. Throw in industrial-strength high school unpopularity and bullying, perpetual virginity, and superpowers, you'll have the recipe for a budding psychopathic supervillain. Dane DeHaan played Andrew ably and is one of the many unexpected delights this film has to offer.

I also thought that it's a modest act of genius to marry psychokinetic abilities with the handheld camera of a found-footage movie. Half the time, no one even needs to be physically holding it, eliminating the much-maligned jitter-cam effect.

The violence in Chronicle is presented as-a-matter-of-factly and somehow, the film ended up being more disturbing for it. When someone's head impact against the asphalt, it leaves a bloodstain behind. Andrew's descent into darkness leaves a trail of those stains behind as he find sadism increasingly more permissible. He started small, tearing a spider limb to limb, before graduating to forcibly pulling teeth out of someone's head and crushing people with vehicular objects. Some of these visuals were really awesome, when they weren't inspiring revulsion in my stomach. Andrew also waxes philosophical about how predators do not feel pity for their preys, and how we experience no remorse in killing insignificant insects. It then turned into rather heavy-handed diatribe against the theory of evolution, perpetuating the discredited stereotype of an amoral survival-of-the fittest-type Darwinist. Bad movie, bad! However, the scene accompanying Andrew's nihilistic musings was so bad-ass that I instantly forgave it.

Several other script flourishes soured Chronicle a little for me. One character name-dropped Plato's Cave as they descended into a hole in the ground for apparently no purpose. When they introduced Michael B. Jordan's character as the token black guy of the psychic trio, I mentally hoped that he wouldn't be the first person to die - and I was disappointed when he proceeded to do just that.

Made for only $ 15 million, it looked as cheap as it costs. I wonder if the decision to shot this in the found-footage format was financially-motivated but still, the special effects are good enough to not take the audience out of the film most of the time - unlike in Attack the Block. In spite of its lack of polish, I still enjoyed Chronicle immensely. Go watch it if you aren't prone to getting motion sickness, and if you are, pop some motion-sickness medicine and go see it anyway.

P.S. Psychic nosebleeds!

Has an anti-motion-sickness superpower,
k0k s3n w4i


nicoletta said...

OK, I'm probably not going to watch this because of that teeth-pulling scene you mentioned. There are certain scenarios of violence which I can't stomach: pulling someone's teeth out would be one of them. And I can't manage eye stabbing or gouging either. As well as any death scene in the Final Destination films.

Sebastian said...

Hey, me and my team worked on the film, glad you liked it! (I suspect my name's not on it though. Will be watching it Wednesday, looking forward to see how our effects hold up against the other studios'.)

And hey, Hancock was one of my favourite films the year it came out!

Liz said...

Sigh. I'd read your review of Chronicle the other day, my bf had watched it too--both pretty good reviews. But watched Haywire today cos my dad wanted to. The ULTIMATE REGRET! T.T

k0k s3n w4i said...

nicoletta: i thought the teeth-pulling scene wasn't too bad, but it's hard for me to gauge how revolting anything is considering that i regularly see worse on the job :/ you're missing out, you know. i know you watch true blood and dane dehaan's in season 4.

Sebastian: the credits were very brief. the first act of hancock was amazing, but the rest of it was pure drivel. incredibly painful to sit through.

Liz: haven't seen haywire but judging it from it's pedigree, i thought it would have been good (and most critics seem to agree).

Liz said...

It's pedigree? It's producer/director? I dunno, I was thinking the list of actors besides Gina Carano were also an indication of a potentially good movie but...

Do a review of it!