Chronicle is a sort of unfortunate title. Hard to search for it, and it’s a lousy entrance point into the film. If you hadn’t seen the trailer, you’d never know what it was about. On the other hand, once you’ve seen the movie and you’re done getting smacked around by the turbulence caused by all your exploding assumptions, it’s a huge clue about the underlying mise en scène of the movie.
If you have seen the trailer, you only sort of know what it’s about, but that’s par for the course. Let me fix that for you. Have no fear; I won’t spoil anything you don’t find out immediately. At least not before the cut.
Here’s the important thing: it’s not a found-footage movie. The movie you see on the screen cannot be an artifact from the fictional reality. Everything’s framed as a camera shot from within the fiction, but there’s nobody who would or could piece together the varying footage into what we see. At the screening I saw, Josh Trank referred to it as a PoV movie, which is a much better term. The secret piece of knowledge you need is that his dad’s a documentarian, and Trank’s intimately familiar with that form. The movie is titled Chronicle because it’s a documentary. Sort of.
It’s not a documentary from the world of the film, though. It’s a movie that’s made in the documentary style. There’s no voice over, no connective tissue, no explanation: just footage from a variety of sources. That choice works because it’s a mirror of how Andrew, the protagonist, sees the world. He fits right into the isolated teen niche, unable to relate to his peers because his adolescence has been stunted by his abusive father and the emotional absence of his dying mother. His environment is established in the first minute of the movie. He’s filming everything because it allows him to both hide and document.
Trank also mentioned that his goal is to make character-oriented films that happen to be genre pictures. He nailed it. The powers are a device to heighten the drama of Andrew’s journey. I found the movie to be rather harrowing at some points, because it’s so raw and painful. Andrew is a sympathetic character all the way through.
Spoilers and loose thoughts coming up next.
Not in any particular order, and much of this comes from Susan. Watch the movie first.
This is a Columbine movie. Or maybe a Carrie movie. I think the Columbine references are intentional, though. When Steve tells Andrew he remembers his hoodie, that’s Trank and Max Landis pulling clothing choices front and center. Hoodies conceal, as do trenchcoats. It’s deftly handled.
The ending is weak to the degree that it diverges from that path. This isn’t Magneto and Xavier, so doing the finale as a confrontation between sane and insane doesn’t serve the rest of the movie well. On the other hand, the CGI and cinematography in the third act is superb. Accordingly, I forgive the movie. Trivia: the graphics work was mostly done by some of the same South African visual effects guys who worked on District 9. I now believe there’s nobody in the world better at photo-realistic effects. Sorry, WETA, you’re working in a slightly different form.
Michael B. Jordan is mega-awesome. It was fun seeing him working in a role that didn’t require him to be talented but messed up. In this, he’s just the charismatic nice guy. Trank made a joke about the black guy dying first, so he’s aware of the problem, but I think it’s more important that Jordan’s role isn’t in any way a black guy role. Ten years ago this would have been a white actor’s role.
None of the mythos is ever explained. I don’t think Trank really knows the story behind the story. He mentioned that the whole concept originated when he imagined the telekinetic tricks the kids are playing during the second act. Sure, there’s a weird meteor and there’s some government crap going on. You never need to go into details there. You would if it was a superhero origin story. Since it’s not, skip all that and dial the focus in on the characters.