Sunday, February 26, 2012

Movie Review: Chronicle

Chronicle Review

Chronicle. That was INTENSE. I'll let this out up front: This movie blew me away. Like, in an unbelievable way. Now, this review will contain spoilers. If you care to experience this movie in a true way (and haven't already seen it), you should go.

The Basics: Okay, so this movie can't come up with anything. I'm trying my best to place a genre on this, or mash up two genres to make this, or invent a new genre to describe this, and I can't. It defies all genre conventions in my opinion. But let's see what I can come up with. This movie is often horror-like, involves teen-movie conventions, is driven by science-fiction and holds superhero themes in its mind. Supernatural Thriller might be the best label, but I don't think that really covers all of it. The movie does, however, present thrills. It grabs you in your seat and doesn't let go. I can't think of another time I've been so entirely immersed, and I'll discuss why later.

Plot: Andrew is a shy, smart kid in his senior year of high school. His mom is terminally sick (we don't know with what, but we know it's extremely painful). His dad is on disability and is a raging drunkard, and he beats Andrew, who doesn't stand up to him. His cousin Matt is the closest thing he has to a friend, and it's not close. The movie starts as Andrew turns on his new camera - he's decided he is going to film EVERYTHING from now on. Everyone else thinks its weird - it's just more ammo to pick on him with. So Matt brings him to a party, and he gets beaten by a jock (Andrew was filming his girl, not with any intent, but jock didn't like that). Outside, he's cleaning the camera when nice fellow Steve shows up and asks him to come with him, that Matt and him found something in the woods and want him to come film it. He comes, with some hesitation, and they find this whole that goes into the ground with a strange noise coming out of it. They start going down, and it brings them to this THING. It seems to defy the laws of physics (a tear from Steve's eye moves to it instead of falling) and the camera is freaking out and they all start to nosebleed and such quite profusely. I'm not sure about this, but my interpretation was that they blacked out (the hand-camera goes dark and we jump to the next scene).
The three of them are together a lot now, and have discovered weird abilities - telekinesis. They explore it a bit, and try to go back to where the thing was, but the ground's caved in and the area is being sectioned off.
The film takes a while exploring their powers. They can move small things at first - grabbing a ball. Andrew builds a space needle out of legos without touching it, and is shown as having finesse. Steve talks about being able to lift his bed, and later drags a car. After nearly killing a person when Andrew turns the car behind him off the road for being an asshole. They rescue him, but Matt brings up the need for rules, and establishes a couple - the main is not to use it on people. Later, they keep getting stronger, and discover that they can fly. Andrew's natural disposition for using the powers becomes increasingly evident. Oh, and they can create barriers, like blocking a punch.
I'll skip forward. Some stuff happens, and people start knowing about Andrew's "magic tricks". He showed them basic telekinesis stuff, but not like flight and stuff. At a party, he goes upstairs with agirl for the first time, and ends up puking (why is unspecified I believe). He immediately starts pushing people away, especially Matt and Steve. After getting beaten by his dad again, he takes off up into the sky in the middle of a lightning storm. Matt and Steve both sense that something's wrong, and Steve finds him there. HE tries to talk Andrew back down to the ground, and is struck by lightning and killed. Andrew continues to push Matt away, and denies knowing what happened to Steve.
Andrew starts getting darker and darker and angrier and angrier. He kills a couple small bugs, and starts advancing to hurting people. He becomes overcome with the idea that he's an apex predator over humans, and that the apex predator doesnt' feel remorse for killing lower beings. He beats his dad back one time, and eventually finds that he needs money to pay for his mom's pain medication. He dresses up in his dad's old firefighter's uniform and goes out to the drugdealing douchebags and demands their money. They resist, and he kills them and takes it. It's not enough though - he goes to a gas station. He holds it up, blasts the guy inside and steals all the cash. As he's leaving the attendant gets up and goes out with the shotgun. Andrew sweeps it from his hand as it goes off - the gas station explodes, putting him in the hospital. He dad comes to him there to find him unconscious. His dad reveals that Andrew's mother has died, and starts blaming Andrew. As he goes to hit Andrew, he wakes up and blocks his arm. Then Andrew blows out the hospital wall like a bomb.
Matt knows something's wrong, he's getting super-crazy nosebleeds. He drives to the hospital and sees Andrew floating outside the whole, dangling his father. When he drops him, Matt flies up (in front of everyone) and grabs him and brings him to safety. He then flies up to confront Andrew. Matt finds Andrew at the Space Needle, ready to kill everyone. Matt tries to talk him down but can't, and they start a mid-air fight with news copters and cops watching. Eventually, Matt kills him to keep him from bringing the whole city down. Matt flees the police.
Last thing we see is the camera flying past a bunch of landscapes and landing in Tibet, where Andrew had expressed wanting to go when they first were learning to fly. He had wanted to go because it seemed so peaceful. Matt sets up Andrew's camera, points it at a group of temples, apologizes to him and says goodbye, that he's going to use his powers to help people and to unearth what caused this, no matter how long it takes. We hear him take off and the picture fades to black.

There's more, and there's subplots, but it would take forever to say it all. This is all summary though. How about reviewing it already? I  love it. I think it does so many things right. It starts off quite slow, in a way that may give you pause when you're watching it. The first bit is very teen-movie-ish, and that might throw you off, but it's important stuff for later. Later on it stays focused and pointed, every scene has relevance, and for an important reason. Basically, I can't critique the storyline at all. It's not cliche in any way, it isn't a clone of another movie we've seen, it's something entirely new.

This Movie Is Cloverfield: No its not, not at all, but it takes from Cloverfield the one convention it needs. Cloverfield is probably the biggest example of the found-footage style of filming, where there isn't an abstract camera that we're seeing it through, but instead we perceive through the lens of a camera that is actually being held by the characters. Another recent film that used a lot of found-footage is Super 8. Now, I love this film style. I think that for certain concepts it's brilliantly immersive and puts you right into the scene. There are 3 main pitfalls with the style as a whole however, and Chronicle is the perfect counter to most of these.
1) Shaky Cam. Yeah, it's held by hand, so it's gonna shake. A lot. And people don't really like shaky cam very much. However, the kids' telekinesis allows them to hold it perfectly steady while they move it, so it often doesn't shake (and when they're actually holding it, they minimize the shaking for us).
2) Limited Shots. You're holding it by hand, meaning the camera only can point where you can reasonably aim it. You also don't want to have the character looking like he's always reaching for the most film-y shot. Probably the hardest shot to do in this style is the top-down shot. By telekinesing the camera wherever they want it, Chronicle avoids the issue by just taking it out of their hands. They do a lot of the top-down shots as well (probably just saying to everyone "Hey! We found out how to do found-footage from above, have a lot of it!") but it still looks very cool.
3) "...Why?" The issue here is that you need to give every scene a reason for the camera to be there. This film's is Andrew's obsession with filming everything. This movie actually struggles with this just like all the others, but does pretty well I think. Other characters reference the fact that it's weird for him to have the camera everywhere, and the last act does jump out of the camera sometimes (though it also flashes into other things like security cameras and police dashboard cameras pretty often to hold the feeling in). Actually, the film introduces and uses a second filming character who doesn't do it quite so obsessively, but has it in the right places for us to get away from Andrew sometimes.
Most of the film has that cheap-camera quality, especially before they get their powers while Andrew still has the old camera. The quality is good and viewable, but it definitely works as a means to immerse you in the world and make things a lot more personal and close. There's surprisingly littler 127 Hours-style monologueing to the camera. Quite a bit of silent activity while the camera sits there, but it really gives a feel for Andrew's life.

This is a Teen Movie: This movie actually shows a lot of the high school life, and it WORKS. A lot of movies that ry to portray  high school life end up either being just kinda wrong or being gross exaggerations, and I felt that Chronicle's was very true to life. It hits a couple pop culture type notes, but it really doesn't try too hard so you don't really notice.
This is one of the film's downpoints actually - it restricted the audience. My parents said that they didn't really relate to it because of how much it focused on the teen life. So I guess it works really well with a certain age group and starts falling apart a bit as you get somewhat older. However, since I fall into the good age group, this is an incredible experience.

This is a Horror Movie: Again, not really. The abuse scenes in such a real-feeling movie  are very disturbing, and if that hits a nerve this movie could make you incredibly uncomfortable. The early finding-the-thing stuff is pretty horror-like. Watching Andrew's descent into madness is VERY disturbing. It's psychological horror more than anything.
The immediate mental connect to Cloverfield had me on edge a bit since that was horror. Also, in my opinion everything felt riskier and more terrifying because of the immersiveness and personalization of the camera.

This is a Superhero Movie: Oh boy, not sure if people will agree with this classification. The kids are NOT heroes. They are people. But they find themselves granted, through exposure to an unknown thing, their telekinetic powers. Generally though they don't go fight crime or anything - the first thing they do is go to Wal-Mart and just a be total dick to everyone. In other words, they were high school seniors.
However, in my opinion the place the movie connects best to superhero movies is in its themes. Mainly Matt's theme (I think Matt and Andrew each embody one main theme, and I'll talk about that more later). Matt's theme is Spiderman: one of the biggest pieces of Spiderman that stays with everyone is Uncle Ben's last words, "With great power comes great responsibility." Matt is all about accepting the responsibility of the power and restricting it and not hurting people, while Andrew follows along with that but deep down doesn't care, and Steve fits in between, wanting to enjoy his power but understanding the risk. Matt even more than Steve is always bringing up that they need to back off and keep it a secret and stay restrained, while Andrew saw no wrong in steering someone to their death for being annoying, and this is in the beginning before he really goes to the dark side.
So the Spiderman concept is a big connection to superhero movies for me. Not everyone will see this, but I do. I'll also point out that spiders seem to be a recurring image in the film - you see them a few time, a spider is the first thing Andrew kills purposefully, and when he's suiting up to go out and get money there's a song with spider-related lyrics going on, and those are just the ones I noticed offhand, I bet there were more. Spiders as a whole seem to be a whole image in the film, and I can't find the significance of them without relating it to Spiderman.

This is a Science Fiction Movie: Flying, telekinesis, mental barriers, this is a sci-fi movie. Honestly, it doesn't come off as one really aside from the technical classification. The weakest classification.

Themes: The movie has a few themes. I saw two main themes, one of which dominates the first half of the movie, and then the other is dominant for the latter half. The early one is the Spiderman theme, that great power comes with great responsibility, which I already talked about. This peaks with Steve's death; Andrew's recklessness and selfishness lead to Steve putting himself in danger for Andrew and dying for it. Afterward, Andrew starts retreating and the other theme starts to come to the fore: Repressed emotion will burst forth as anger. Andrew has suffered his father his whole life, taking all of the shame and hate and depression and rage at his father, and has internalized it. He's picked on at school, has no real friends, has no game with girls, and is bullied. He's a small-ish kid, and all of his frustration and everything from all of these factors has been boiling under in him. Then he got powers, and his self-loathing from being unable to perform and puking when he was with the girl broke him, and everything started converting to violence. That's when he started pushing everyone away and killing things. In the end, it was his hatred of his father that caused all that emotion to explode (literally), and then he does his destructive rampage at the end of the movie.
Maybe my choice of the theme as a main one doesn't come through for some folks who watched the movie, but this is what I felt a lot.
Other themes include the pressures of high school and the corruption that comes with power (that second one is heavily tied to Andrew's theme).

So, um, that's what I've got. I think I'm done gushing about the movie. I do need to acknowledge flaws though, and I think the main ones are these: Your age group may keep you from really immersing yourself like young folks will, the movie is dark and dangerous as all hell, and the sheer genre-smashing means that this might not be for you. Overall though, the quality is incredible. If I'm right in assuming that a lot of the tricks were CGI, it was damn seamless. The music was atmospheric but not really noticeable, it wasn't super impressive but had no real flaws either.
Top scores all around.

Watch This Movie If You: Like excellent movies, are young enough to empathize and immerse yourself in the young-uns place (I'm think 15-25 is the right range, but I have no idea really)
Don't Watch This Movie If: You're outside the age range that you'll really get the realisticness and immersiveness of the school, if you have really awful taste.
10/10. FULL SCORE. I think this might be the best movie since Black Swan.

End Recording,

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