“Chronicle” was an eagerly-awaited addition to our Netflix cue since I first read about it, not only because it is a super-hero, science-fiction film, but also because it’s an interesting take on the genre. Staged as a sort of video verite adventure among high school students, Chronicle is a Cloverfield meets Blair Witch meets Heroes mash-up that, despite how that may leave your head spinning, works extremely well.
Part of the reason it works as well as it does is because it follows the adventures of three high school boys through the lens of the camera of one of them, who films life as a coping skill and a type of escapism from a tragic family life that includes an extremely ill mother and an abusive, alcoholic father. The camera lens follows the three boys as they discover a sort of alien artifact (or ship, or something…we’re never entirely certain) that irradiates them and endows them with a series of telekinetic abilities. The three grow stronger as they experiment in the use of their abilities, getting into pranks as teenage boys will, and building unlikely friendships with each other. Andrew develops into the strongest of the three, but is unaccepting of the societal norms that the other two agree should govern the use of their new powers.
What’s fascinating about the development of the story is that the camera…and eventually other cameras…become an extension of Andrew’s character. He verbalizes at one point that he prefers the lens of the camera as a barrier between himself and the rest of the world, and the perspective of any camera lens soon transforms for the viewer into Andrew’s perspective, as he perceives himself as an all-powerful “apex predator” over the rest of humanity. That is, until we meet Casey, who turns her own camera lens to the world in order to enact positive influences. Eventually, the perspective of the viewer leaves the confined realms of these two cameras, and explodes into every camera viewing the climactic action, be they helicopter cameras, police dash cameras, or the swarm of mobile phone cameras with which Andrew surrounds himself as he hovers mid-air at one point. The intentional directorial choice to frame the film in this way is an unusually fresh take on a super-hero film.
Also intriguing about this directorial choice is the stage-like theatrical quality it lends to the film, as special effects are minimal and key parts of the story (was it an alien ship, a meteor, or what??) remained unexplained in a completely acceptable way. The mysteries of the story are maintained in a manner that would cause a more widely cinematic take on this story to fall flat.
As the three main characters explore their new-found powers, Matt ultimately chooses the role of hero, Steve the role of antihero, and Andrew the role of villain. When Steve ultimately turns to a more positive role with his abilities and attempts to turn Andrew away from evil exercises of his power, his fate leaves Matt to step in and engage Andrew in a final epic battle of good against evil. What makes this fascinating, even though it is the only true way such a storyline can evolve, is that it evolves with all three character types in an extremely realistic transformation of everyman characters into superhumans, to say nothing of the fact that we feel sympathetic to the development of the villain.
Chronicle uses the super-hero genre to explore the ultimate view of human life as either utilitarian and expendable (Andrew’s view as he sees himself atop an evolutionary ladder), or as inherently valuable and worth preserving (Matt’s view as he acts heroically to save lives, even of a man he knows to be abusive). Matt displays the nature of a hero in choosing to use his abilities for good instead of evil.
Chronicle is a dark but amazing film that deserves your attention if you enjoy science fiction or the super-hero genre at all, or even if you’re looking for a good suspense film. Add this to your cue, and you won’t be disappointed.