Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Tales from Chronicle…deferred…

(Or why Chronicle made me think of a ‘90s movie; Or, a Tale of Two Movies)

I promised I’d get to talking about films released this year that I should have written on eons, but for my laziness. Up now Josh Trank’s sci-fi debut Chronicle which centres on three teenage boys who gain telekinetic abilities from an unknown object. The three comprise the charismatic future class president of their high-school, Steve; a generally nondescript all-round good guy, Matt and his introverted cousin surviving a dying mother and an abusive father, Andrew. To deal with his reclusiveness Andrew carries a video camera with him as much as title. This is significant because Chronicle wins the prize, thus far, for most unsubtle (somewhat most ungainly) film title of the year. For what is a Chronicle? Merriam Webster says: “a historical account of events arranged in order of time usually without analysis or interpretation”. This is important to know because Chronicle belongs to that genre of found-footage.

I’m not using this space to cast aspersions against the genre but one of the clunkiest aspects of the film is Trank’s – oftentimes unsubtle – attempts to ensure that Andrew’s camera, or some other video device, is constantly around to legitimise the use of the found-footage genre and as things – inevitably – go awry as the film winds down the question looms larger and larger. Why is this a legitimate concept for a found-footage camera? Other than novelty and, I’d presume, a cheaper budget I’m unsure.

What made me ponder most on Chronicle, though, was its story. Admittedly, Trank has little to offer in the way of insightful thematic elements and if you’re sitting at an especially cynical angle the film plays out like a somewhat rote morality tale. Trank manages to (but barely) get away with it because the crux of the morality rests on the shoulders of Dane DeHaan who is so tenderly moving as the beleaguered teen unable to use his newfound powers wisely that I’m almost moved to thinking the film is better than in it is in a few scenes. For DeHaan is so easily the MVP of the entire film and it’s not because his Andrew is an especially profoundly written character, in fact the throwaway emotionally stunted, abused could seem so played out it’s to his credit that it seems so real here. The dynamic of the group, though, launched me on a flashback to a film of the 90s which examined the same issues that Trank hopes for with more gutso - The Craft.

Incidentally, Chronicle opened to much more positive reviews than The Craft did in its day. The parallels are stark, though. High school students find power, use them for fun and entertainment, unhinged (abused) member begins to use it for ill, eventually leads to a face-off movie ends. The Craft supersedes Chronicle, immediately, on one level. As DeHaan moves from sensitive antihero to would-be villain the film necessitates the use of Matt as a portal for the audience and because he’s so underdeveloped significant closing scenes in the film lack the punch they should. Fleming had already sidestepped that issue in The Craft by placing more emphasis on the eventual problem solver of the group – Sarah.
The key difference between the two film’s developments, though, is the significant lack of humour in Trank’s narrative. To be fair, Chronicle has jokes interspersed throughout the narrative but it’s ultimately an exercise in sensitive gloom than one in excitement (compare their last shot’s, a hammy scream in a psychiatric ward against the tranquil Tibetan monastery). This is not to imply that humour trumps seriousness as a rule. However, the found-footage effect seems to eventually (ironically) maintain a distance between the audience and the machinations of the character and without an essential dose of levity it becomes more forced than authentic.

Apologies for breaking my own rule and turning my discussion of a film into a comparison, but this is not a legitimate review, anyhow. Chronicle is adequate, it has its conceits which don’t feel earned but it also makes good on its intents. And, it boasts a fine lead performance. There are worse things.

Dane DeHaan in Chronicle B+
Michael B. Jordan in Chronicle C+
Alex Russell in Chronicle C
Use of Found-Footage in Chronicle C-
Chronicle C
(The Craft B)


Chip Lary said...

Good job on the connections between Chronicle and The Craft. They hadn't occurred to me, but when you mentioned them I had an "of course" reaction.

I watched Chronicle with low expectations and ended up surprisingly liking it.

ruth said...

I haven't seen The Craft, but I see the similarities from your write-up, Andrew. Interesting breakdown on the performances, I agree that DeHaan is the most compelling of the three, though I quite like Alex's character also. I guess DeHaan is the most experienced actor also, so that might explain it.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

chip again i'll include the slight disclaimers on my grading. c isn't a particularly high grade, but i find things to like in most films c and above. also, for what it is it's hardly offensive.

(also, do people even still talk about the craft anymore?)

ruth all three guys do seem to be congenial enough but it's not really an "actors'" film which makes the effort dehaan puts in that more startling and impressive.