Chronicle: Reckless in Seattle (Movie Review)

George Lucas reinvented the world of science fiction in 1977 with Star Wars Episode IV, spending around $40 million of present-day currency to produce the lucratively profitable space epic.  He was 33 when Greedo didn’t shoot first and still a god among geeks.  At 30 years and with $30 million, director Neil Blomkamp gave us the instant classic, District 9, a sci-fi mockumentary set in Johannesburg, South Africa — a more terrestrial and hostile version of Tattooine.  In this politically conscious alien adventure, humankind plays the evil Empire.  After watching Chronicle (opening Feb. 5), essentially a sublime hybrid of both, it appears a padawan director named Josh Trank has reached cinematic Nerdvana much younger (he turns 27 on Feb. 19), spending around one- third less than Lucas. You should know this going in, because it makes the movie feel that much more real.  The trio of telekinetic teens, who all take turns capturing their super new lives on camera, must really have matter-moving minds.  Because the most engaging sci-fi experience since “The Matrix” should not cost the same as four 30-second Super Bowl XLVI ads.

The film is only 83 minutes long, but that’s plenty of time for victimized videographer-turned-super villain Andrew Detmer (newcomer Dane DeHaan, a ringer for DiCaprio circa What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) to his sudden, yet believable turn to the dark side.  You may start to wonder what the hell took Anakin Skywalker so long.  The bratty ex-Jedi needed three movies and a Sith guidance counselor to become Darth Vader; the Seattle high school senior has an abusive, alcoholic father and about an hour of screen time to become “The Apex Predator,” a hormonal maelstrom swirling with schizophrenic tendencies and a penchant for Animal Planet.  Anakin had a much cooler HQ, though.  The Death Star beats the Space Needle every time.

Andrew started out normal enough— at least as normal as a kid with a dying mom and slaphappy dad can be.  He innocently begins the video chronicle (get it?) as a coping mechanism for all the things he cannot control in life.  This also gives the viewer a first-person perspective of how shitty high school can be, though this may trigger PTSD in the target audience, young adult males.  This “found footage” conceit less of a gimmick used for scares, like in Cloverfield or Quarantine, and more of an entry point into the troubled teen’s psyche.  In his world, he is the director who chooses the perspective, the editor who decides which parts of the story to keep.  He finally has power.

One day Andrew’s more popular cousin Matt (Alex Russel) invites him to a rave on the outskirts of town.  Along the way, Matt quotes philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, which offers some foreshadowing of the journey to come: “Emotional, physical and sexual desires can never be fulfilled.”  We now know not to expect a happy ending, but when should you in this genre?

Good guy Matt is determined to get his anti-social cousin some action and maybe even pry him away from that camera.  It’s creepin’ folks out, especially the cheerleaders.  The one girl not creeped out, perky blonde video blogger Casey Letter (Ashley Hinshaw), seemed like she could have helped Andrew come out of his shell, among other things, but alas, Matt’s a cock blocker and took her for himself.

Up to this point, everything is realistic, from the cousins’ amusing tete-a-tetes to the random raving d-bag’s violent reaction to Andrew filming his bitch’s booty.  While Andrew enjoys a good post-beat down cry, charismatic class presidential candidate Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) rudely interrupts, telling Andrew he and Matt found something that needs to be caught on camera.  Usually this means two – possibly three – drunk girls are making out on the dance floor.  Here it appears that a giant meteor has pierced the Earth near the party. Something bellows deep within the dark, foreboding crater.  Anything could be down there, from the Super 8 alien to a family of fraggles.  It’s the type of situation that is just begging to be investigated.  If you think only an idiot would do that, you must have never seen the Indiana Jones trilogy or Goonies.  And if that’s the case, you’re the idiot.

Well, thank God they went down there, because the giant glowing red crystal they discover gives them the ability to move anything with their minds.  And bloody noses.  The guys all become pals, using their newfound powers in hilariously mischievous ways.  If the boys didn’t want to keep their hidden talents a secret, their prank videos would have definitely gone viral.  Soon they learn to fly, something even the Jedi never could master.  The trios’ football game in the clouds is among the most enjoyable scenes depicting the recreational use of super powers ever.  Director Josh Trank made this film for less than $15 million.  Green Lantern cost $200 million and doesn’t contain one action scene nearly as memorable as the most forgettable from Chronicle, if it even has one.

Just when you think the guys are going to say, “Why don’t we use our awesome gifts to help mankind,” Andrew goes rogue.  He almost kills a guy tailgating them (can’t blame him) and then beats the crap out of his dad (still can’t blame him).  Matt and Steve stick to their self-imposed rules: Never use on a living being, never use when angry, never in public.  For once, Andrew is the strongest and chooses to ignore these rules that cannot be enforced.  “A lion does not feel guilty when it kills a gazelle,” Andrew muses.

Eventually, his dalliances with devilish impulsiveness escalate to a Macbethian final act.  The aerial fistfight spans the city, the combatants flinging buses and crashing into buildings with reckless abandon.  Their abilities allow them to reflexively generate force fields, an unfortunate side effect for downtown Seattle.  You expect to see such an epic fight in one of many comic book movies this summer, not in early February

Maybe going into this with low expectations influenced my profound affection for this film, as did my appreciation of convincing actors, a smart, witty script and creative direction.  It doesn’t offer anything truly original — fictional teens gain super powers all the time.  Chronicle really succeeds by injecting a healthy dose of harsh realism into every boy’s fantasy of being able to fly and become invincible.  No matter how much power or fame people have, it’s never enough for most guys.  Let’s just hope the power and influence Trank gains from this movie doesn’t corrupt him like it did Lucas.



5 Responses to “Chronicle: Reckless in Seattle (Movie Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Looking forward to checking this out tonight.

  2. Sean Ferguson

    Sorry, but I couldn’t let your line about Greedo go unchallenged. Greedo didn’t shoot first back in 1977 when Lucas was 33. In fact, Greedo didn’t shoot his blaster at all at that point in time. That was the whole point of the scene and why the special editions drove so many people crazy later, since they changed the entire ending of the scene. As it is now, they both shoot at the same time, with Han being a lot more accurate.

  3. Brian White

    That was a typo.
    John quickly brought it to my attention and it has been fixed.
    I really do think you will like this film Sean. I immensely enjoyed it 🙂

  4. Sean Ferguson

    I’d rather watch Star Wars again!

  5. Matt Goodman

    I REALLY liked this one! Good review!