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Chronicle Is A Wicked Fun Found Footage Film

Directed by Josh Trank
Written by Max Landis from a story by Landis and Trank
Fox, 2012

Chronicle is the latest in a sub-genre of found footage film: the special effects extravaganza.  The technique has been used now in a ton of films, and it’s only been a month since the last one, The Devil Inside.  Most of them are horror movies, it’s a convention that I think makes them more effective in most cases, but we don’t see too many movies in this genre loaded with visual effects.  Cloverfield was the only one up until now, but Cloverfield also owes some of its genetics to those old Powerade commercials where Michael Vick throws a football over 100 yards, or Lebron James hitting a succession of half-to-full court shots.  There were actually others in that era, but I remember those the most.

Visual effects movies can benefit from the found footage presentation as well.  We’re in a strange era for visual effects because there was a time when I think we thought they were awesome and seamless.  But now, they are a part of movies that can really take you out of the film if they are done really poorly and can be rather off-putting even if done well, because visual effects have not improved their believability in 10 years, maybe more.  We are all familiar with them and their clunky computer-generated attempts at making impossible things look natural.  So when the visual effects stuff comes in footage shot with a video camera, we’re more able to believe that’s actually happening.

Not that Chronicle has completely seamless visual effects.  There are still some too-obvious animations in this, but for the most part, it’s fantastic.

Chronicle focuses on three high school kids, Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), and Steve Montgomery (Friday Night Lights‘ Michael B. Jordan).  They represent the lower, middle, and upper class of popularity at their school.  Steve is the athletic, all-activities, all-popular kid with a hot cheerleader girlfriend.  Matt has dabbled being the nerd and the popular one in his life, but has started backing down from the popular crowd recently.  And his cousin Andrew, who is our main character, our hero-soon-to-be-villain, is the kid that gets bullied at school, bullied at home by his dad, and has a sick mother who appears will die soon.

The three kids find themselves brought together at a barn party.  The bullied Andrew shoots video everywhere he goes, and when Steve and Matt stumble upon a strange hole somewhere in the woods outside the party, Steve gets Andrew to come along and document it.  The camera starts to freak out when they go down in the hole and find a huge glowing rock.  The next thing you see, they are practicing telekinesis with thrown baseballs.

It begins like this and the kids do what high school boys want to do: play pranks.  But the idea is that this new power is like a muscle and that it needs working out before they can do really powerful things.  Soon, they start flying.  The first flying sequence in this movie is ridiculously cool.  I won’t ruin anything by describing it, but there is a certain freedom implied by this scene that not many movies capture.

Using these techniques in the right way, even Andrew starts to look cool and starts gaining confidence.  But the psychological damage has already been done.  Once Andrew’s popularity and confidence find their breaking point, he becomes a very dangerous person with those powers.  And thus we go to the third act, where he either has to reform or die.

This movie piles on great amounts of imagination.  I have watched thousands of movies and in most of them, whenever you get a good idea or concept, you start thinking of cool things that should be done in the movie.  Chronicle hits on those ideas and takes you into surprising places.  It’s almost a shame there even has to be a major conflict in this movie that changes everything.  It’s so cool seeing these guys learning and using their powers, that it’s almost a letdown when it turns into a free-for-all destruction, amateur superhero movie.  I’m not saying this portion of the movie is bad, it’s just a sharp contrast to the freestyle magic we’ve seen up until then.

Chronicle should satisfy a couple of camps that don’t like found footage movies.  For instance, I think most of these films have solved the “shaky-cam” issue that plagued a lot of people’s enjoyment of The Blair Witch Project.  This is something that was also a big problem for people when they watched Cloverfield.  This movie doesn’t have shaky-cam, and it has a lot of action, which is something else that people who generally don’t like these movies have qualms with.  A lot of found footage movies rely on the lack of action to sell their shocks and horrors, but Chronicle is pretty much in full wonder mode in 20 minutes.  An excellent debut for director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis, the son of Animal House/Trading Places director John Landis.

This is a ballsy move from Fox, opening a movie like this on Super Bowl weekend, traditionally one of the trashiest weekends in the calendar year.  The marketing for it has been phenomenal on YouTube.  Luckily, the movie follows suit.  This is gold.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: February 17, 2012, 7:29 am

Finally got a chance to see this. Freaking awesome. The first thirty minutes dragged a tad; I wasn’t a huge fan of the set-up (although it may play a little better the 2nd time around). However, then the it started getting better and the last thirty minutes…HOLY SHIT! While I didn’t mind the found footage aspect, I don’t think it was needed. One of the better Hero/Villain origins I’ve seen; it’s no “Unbreakable,” but what is?

Another thing I’ve noticed and is awesome is how many freaking people are going to the movies. Last week’s box office totals caught me by suprise with it just being the 2nd week in Feburary. Those are pretty big Summer weekend type numbers when you take in the whole top half, and then I saw this on a Thursday night in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and there was almost a sold out crowd. And this wasn’t the only movie; there were just a ton of people there in general to see other movies. As Miley Cyrus would say, that’s..pretty cool. Hope all is well. Great review as usual.

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: March 1, 2012, 12:56 pm

The box office is definitely up this year, by a wide margin, but damned if you’ll see any of those “slump” publications/websites ever mention it.

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