Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan
Review by Brian M. Sammons
First, yes this is not a horror movie, but it is a found footage flick (you know; first person POV shot with a shaky cam) which has up until now been practically the sole domain of horror movies. Second, while not horror, it is sci-fi, the kissing cousin to our favorite genre. Third, not only is this one of the best and most realistic superhero flicks ever (yes I’m aware I just used “realistic” and “superhero” in the same sentence), it is also a great example of how good found footage films can be if the person making the movie has passion and skill, and first time director Josh Trank has both of those in spades. So while not scary, it is damn good and besides; a horrorhead cannot exist on fright films alone. So grab your video camera, we’re going to soar through the air and move things with our minds. It’s superhero time!
This film chronicles (ah, see what they did there) how three average high school boys get near God-like powers of telekinetics that allow them to fly through the air, lift huge objects with their mind, and even wrap themselves in impervious fields of force. How this is accomplished, I shall not spoil here, but I will say that it remains tantalizingly mysterious even until the end of the movie. I really liked that, as I often feel that too many movies suffer from over-explanation-itus when the characters in the film would really have no way of knowing what the filmmakers desperately want to shove down the audience’s throat. And before you ask, no that’s not the realistic part if this movie I mentioned earlier. That comes from how the three kids act once they become super powered.
At first the trio behave like almost anyone (young or not) would when given strange new powers that at first begin small and only grow in power the more the kids use them. By that I mean they mess around with them. They chase little girls around stores with floating teddy bears, move people’s cars in parking lots, blow up ladies’ skirts (something I’ve always wanted to do ever since seeing 1982’s Zapped!) and even soar through the clouds for a little mile high football. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have fun if they got superpowers?
But soon all the good natured hijinks take a very dark turn.
In what I thought was a very good move, Chronicle asks the question; what would happen if you took a very sad boy, someone mercilessly picked on at school by bullies and at home by a drunken father, and suddenly gave them unlimited power? Would they do the Spider-man thing and become a hero? Or in this world where bullied kids go to school one day packing guns and pipe bombs, would they want revenge and the respect they’ve always been denied, no matter how they had to get it? That’s where Chronicle really shines as it shows not only the birth of a possible superhero, but also the genesis of a sympathetic, but still selfish and deadly villain. Few films have approached the realm of comic books so seriously (M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable being the only other one I can think of) and it was a nice departure from guys running around in brightly colored spandex.
Lastly, special mention must be made for the movie’s great looking special visual effects. Now if you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you’ll know that every third or fourth one I do I complain about CGI and how much I hate it. Well this is what CGI should be used for: to realize the otherwise impossible, not just to do things quick and cheap like simulating blood spurts and bullet hits. Also this movie doesn’t go for the bargain basement, “just barely good enough for TV” CGI production house like so many films do. That’s always my main complaint with computer effects; how horribly fake and cartoonish they look and how they all but smack you out of the movie watching experience. In Chronicle, every CGI effect is well done and also adds to the story. They’re not just explosions and eye candy a la Michael Bay for the sake masking a ho-hum story with lots of computer generated pretty. I only wish all moviemakers had such restraint.
Now as cool as the movie is, the Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox has only a smattering of extras. Honestly, things are a bit thin here. For one, there are no commentary tracks of any kind. For two, there are no behind the scenes, making of, or any real featurettes either. There is something called “Pre-Viz” which is a seven minute collection of very rough drafts of some of the CGI effect used in the movie that look as graphically compelling as PlayStation One visuals. To round things off there’s a camera tests of the dinner scene, a single deleted scene that adds nothing to the movie, and a theatrical trailer. This release isn’t exactly bare bones, but it’s very nearly that. The only “extras” worth noting is that both the theatrical release and the director’s cut are on the BD disc and that it is a combo disc release, meaning that it has the DVD, Blu-ray, and digital copy of the movie in one package. So there’s that I guess.
Chronicle is a surprisingly serious, enjoyable, and well-made movie that takes off the mask, ditches the cape, and leaves the tights at home when it comes to being about superheroes. Both comic book fans and those who have never cracked open a comic in their life will enjoy this sci-fi cautionary tale about empowerment, revenge, and the end of innocence. If you’re looking for a very different take on people who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, this is the movie for you.