Film #98: Chronicle (2012)

ChronicleEx624Prodirector: Josh Trank
language: English
length: 84 minutes
watched on: 29 October 2013

Chronicle is next in line of the high school movies that I’ve been ending up watching recently. It’s one of those rather shocking cases where I literally cannot fathom how it’s taken so long to get a release in Japan (it is only at a handful of cinemas around the country and only one in Tokyo, though). It was released in the UK last February, more than a year and a half ago, only just after I arrived in Japan, and yet it was only released in Japan this September… long after it’s been and gone for the rest of the world.

The movie is about teenagers who gain superpowers, specifically telekinesis, by climbing down a hole in the ground and encountering a kind of alien crystal thing. Being teenagers, they just start goofing off and playing practical jokes on people. Then they start testing the limits of their powers, and finally lose control. Maybe that’s a spoiler, but basically all the publicity spoils it for you anyway.

It’s a very fresh take on the superhero genre, and stands in contrast to films like Spiderman which are ostensibly the same premise – teenager gains superpowers – but I can’t help but think this is a more realistic portrayal of what’s likely to happen. It goes into a lot of detail when they explore what is possible with their new powers, and find that like a “muscle” to exercise, they will only get more powerful the more they practise. It turns out that some level of shielding/invincibility and the ability to fly are apparently logical conclusions of being able to manipulate objects around you.

As there are three very different characters – Andrew, Matt and Steve – who gain these superpowers, we also get three different takes on what they do with the powers, again in contrast to superhero movies where only one character gains the powers.

Andrew is the main character, and it’s established in the opening shot that his home life is pretty terrible: he has an abusive, alcoholic father and dying mother, both pretty much to the point of caricature. The foreshadowing of his poor emotional skills is none too subtle. He’s the quickest to gain control of his powers, though. No points for guessing how that turns out. Matt is his cousin, much more level-headed and cautious, and Steve is very outgoing and reckless compared to the others. The three form a bond over their shared, secret experience, and the two more confident boys try to bring Andrew out of his shell.

The movie is shot in a “found footage” style: everything is ostensibly shot by one of the characters on a camera. This style, frankly, gets old quickly, and is good only for a gimmick. Personally I think the story would have worked just as well without the gimmick. The filmmakers do put it to good use, however. At first, Andrew wants to document everything with his camera, much to the annoyance of a lot of people around him, but presumably to try and get evidence against his father. Then it becomes this pathological need to create a barrier between him and the other characters. He’s not the only person walking around with a camera, of course, and the modern setting makes good use of this fact, and occasionally the film cuts to another person’s camera, particularly one girl who used to date Matt.

Later in the film the filmmakers find an excuse to sort of abandon the gimmick a little bit, as when Andrew becomes suitably competent with his powers, he lets the camera float near him, and we get some more conventionally cinematic angles and shots. Later still, this becomes an unconscious habit. But then, especially near the end of the film, they start running out of excuses to have cameras in the scene, and it becomes awkward again – one time they even call attention to the camera specifically, and another, the girl who also had a camera is carried around with only her voice to show that it was actually her and not someone else holding the camera. The most ridiculous was when Andrew telekinetically grabs dozens of cellphones from an onlooking crowd, allowing the filmmakers to shoot the ensuing scene however they want but again not really making sense apart from that. The whole device just served to put an extra barrier between me and the film, in the end, and it was a shame.

But frankly, even though it was annoying, that was a fairly minor thing. Just like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the other problems I found were that I find high school settings boring and often unrelatable, and that everyone’s far too attractive. I mean, that’s also perfect, because we get three cute male leads… but not realistic! Even Andrew, who I think is not meant to be attractive in the context of the movie, is cute – and apparently his actor will play a gay character alongside Daniel Radcliffe in the movie about Allen Ginsberg next year, so I suppose I should look out for that!

The other mildly annoying thing about the story is that the first camera breaks after the encounter with the crystal thing at the start of the movie. Then there is what is implied to be a 2 week gap with no footage, and I think this is exactly the time when the guys discover their powers for the first time, because when they switch on the new camera for the first time, they’re already testing out the powers to see if they can stop a ball in mid-air. In some ways, this worked, because it leaves the beginnings even more mysterious (we don’t get to find out how they got out of the hole, either), but I would have thought that showing them actually finding out about their new powers for the first time would have been much more exciting.

I’ve heard rumours of a sequel, and I’m not sure what to think about that – as long as it’s handled well, it could work, but I don’t want to just see a rehash of the same film. There are unsolved mysteries in the story’s universe, such as the origin of the alien crystal thing, which had government officials swarming round it when the boys come back to reinvestigate. I can see that the temptation with a sequel to Chronicle would be to have another set of teenagers goofing off, but I think it would be much better to start where it finished off and build on what we know already. That might turn out to be difficult, though. We’ll have to see what happens, I guess.

That all aside, I really liked this movie, and I wasn’t really expecting to, if I’m honest, because at first it just looked like another run-of-the-mill superhero movie. I actually mainly went because the ticket price was significantly lower than other movies (it’s on at Cinema Qualité in Shinjuku if anyone’s interested, in Tokyo, and reading this in the next week or two, by the way), and it matched with my schedule. The whole premise, aside from the found footage, is really appealing to me, perhaps because the characters are again that kind of outcast character that I somewhat identify with, or even just because it’s taking a common theme and deconstructing it effectively. So it comes with a high recommendation.

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