Thursday, February 09, 2012

Chronicle (2012)

The Man with a Camera
A Review of Josh Trank's Chronicle

Perhaps the only thing that made true sense in all of Michael Bay’s ridiculously noisy Transformers films is a scene in the first film. The homeless robots from outer space have just landed in America, transforming into various vehicles, creating much mayhem, destruction, and fanfare. Instead of running for their lives like the adorably naïve city-dwellers of those cheap monster movies from the 50’s and 60’s, the city-dwellers of Bay’s explosion extravaganza, armed with only video-capable cellular phones or other kinds of portable cameras, go near the metal-bound extraterrestrials and commit the strange occurrences to this world’s technology-aided memory, as captured in bits of data and shared to the world through the help of the internet. That scene in Transformers, perhaps done not for depth but for shallow social satire, sets the film within contemporary terms. It is what differentiates Bay’s films from the outdated but hugely enjoyable and undoubtedly memorable cartoon series from which the films were based.

Josh Trank’s Chronicle is ostensibly a superhero movie. Three friends discover a hole in the ground with some mysterious contraption that gives them telekinetic abilities. From simple tricks they display amongst themselves, they start expanding their powers, and as their powers evolve, the limits of what their morals can take are tested. They are after all quite suddenly gods among normal men.

Chronicle’s storyline is by itself satisfying enough to merit the film some attention. The connivance of the troubled coming-of-age of bullied high schoolers and superpowers creates an experience that delightfully betrays comic book expectations. Although many of the film’s plot points are more corny than compelling, the film admirably commits to its nonsensical musings, weaving together characters that are as obnoxious or as likeable as any other person off your Facebook friends list with a plot straight out of Marvel fan-made fiction.

What ultimately separates Chronicle from other superhero films with the same normal-person-turned-superhero core is the gimmick that pervades the film. The film starts off as a home video. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) has just purchased a cheap camera and has decided to shoot everything that happens in his life. From that logic, the film is allowed to maintain the amateur videographer aesthetic, creating an atmosphere that forces you to understand the motivations behind Andrew’s drastic decisions in the future.

Interestingly, as the characters gain their telekinetic abilities, and as the cheap camera is replaced with a new and more expensive one, the film also transforms into something sleeker, with deliberate pans and zooms and interesting angles, that not only adds aesthetic variance to this so-called “found footage” film but also adds personality to the character who is supposedly controlling the camera that is capturing the action. In a way, the character is not only described through the actions we immediately see but also through the motivations we impute behind his always wanting to be filmed or chronicled.

Andrew, from the loner whose only communication with the world is through the videoclips that people someday might see, is transformed into a power-hungry megalomaniac whose zest for self-iconography can only be matched by history’s worst dictators. In one scene that is similar to the Transformers scene earlier mentioned, tourists in the viewing deck of Seattle’s Space Needle start chronicling the midair battle between Andrew and his cousin (Alex Russell) instead of running for safety, Andrew telekinetically grabs the cellular phones and cameras from the onlookers and creates a wall of cameras circling him, capturing his every movement in numerous angles.

Many critics find the film’s reliance on the so-called found footage as more damning than helpful. I disagree. Perhaps the only liability that Chronicle’s peculiar style deals is that it raises questions as to the consistency of the gimmickry. It just seems unlikely that a camera would be available just anywhere to coherently form a story in motion picture form.

However, as can only be gleaned from the near limitless videos available online, from the freak accidents in an obscure part of the world that have suddenly gone viral in social networking sites or the proliferation of very personal and intimate video blogs, there is always a possibility, one that could not have existed years before the citizens of the world did not have the ability to randomly pull out a camera to capture robots landing from outer space, of an outrageous story being told by anybody who has unlimited access to view and edit something out of all the videos produced and being produced by the billions of people who have access to cameras. Chronicle is only a Hollywood-ized expression of that fantastical possibility.

(Cross-published in Lagarista.)

1 comment:

Noel Vera said...

Two things: it's basically a rehash of something Alan Moore cooked up in Miracleman, years ago. And I understand dumb, but who's dumb enough to try knock over a convenience store when you have the superpowers to crack open an ATM machine?

Good stuff, oggs.