This was not my experience with "Chronicle". I suspected it might be an annoyingly shallow film, but hoped for at least a decent sci-fi movie, based on the trailer. Instead, what I got was a fantastic sci-fi film that fans of the genre will kick themselves for not seeing as soon as possible.
"Chronicle" is about three high school seniors who discover a mysterious, presumably alien substance underground. Their exposure to the object grants them all telekinetic powers which they learn to control more and more as the story progresses. At first, their abilities are merely sources of entertainment, as they play practical jokes on others, or in some way use their abilities to gain attention and favor with others. But Andrew, who is constantly mistreated and misunderstood, begins to lash out with his powers, bringing severe harm to others.
If at some point you begin to feel like you may have seen this movie before, you've probably watched the classic anime "Akira" at least once. It seems clear the writers took inspiration from Akira at several points, both visually and in terms of the story itself. Although "Chronicle" has far more sympathetic characters, and also a plot that makes sense.
The movie is shot in the increasingly popular documentary style, similar in some ways to films like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. I've seen several movies that use the same shooting style as this one, but I've never been more impressed with the variety of ways in which the camera was used while still limiting every shot we see to what an "in story" camera could potentially record.
We start the film limited to only what Andrew captures with his video camera. But as the film progresses, we begin to see events through multiple camera sources including a blogger's video camera, news footage, in-store security cameras and similar sources. And in the second half of the film, telekinesis is also applied to control of the cameras, allowing for some angles never seen before in a "doc" style movie, but that are still consistent with the limitations of using only "in-story" cameras.
This may give you the impression that the shooting style will be used to cover up a low budget and keep the movie grounded. But by halfway through this movie, things are anything but "grounded", as the boys learn what a simple ability like telekinesis really makes possible. By the end, the scale on which their powers are used is nothing short of epic, and I was thrilled and thankful that many of the most jaw-dropping moments were not spoiled in the trailer.
Not to say that this is just an effects film, either. Andrew is the character through whom we experience most of the story, and despite the dark turn he eventually takes, it's hard not to be sympathetic with him. He is picked on mercilessly by other kids, abused by his step father and only develops friendships with the two other boys because of a shared common experience. Relative unknown Dane DeHaan plays the troubled, socially awkward Andrew with great sincerity, and may even remind you of a real kid you know or knew in high school.
My complaints about the movie are few. I would have loved to see actual high school age actors playing these parts. Seeing twenty-somethings in these roles has become common in Hollywood, but the film could have had added realism and intensity if they had cast more age appropriate actors, or changed the plot to be about college students.
Although most of the effects are wonderful, I felt that a few of the visual effects shots could have been better. A floating baseball comes to mind. (Why not just use fishing line, guys?)
Throughout the movie I ran into numerous themes worthy of discussion on the ride home from the theater. Andrew's cousin, Matt, who also gains super powers, has been reading a bit of philosophy for one of his classes and often has little nuggets to spout about human nature. He contends that we are "creatures of will" and can never have our desires satisfied. And biblical anthropology would agree with this, I think.
We are free creatures gifted with free wills, and yet because of sin we are separated from God, who is the ultimate source of fulfillment. Until the day when he removes our ability to sin and gives us new and perfect bodies, all of our attempts at self-fulfillment will fall short. It's possible the theme of "failing to fulfill our own desires" was an intended parallel to Andrew's story, who seems to believe that he can use his powers to get the things he wants from life.
Andrew himself also shares a personal philosophy that is intriguing. At one point he tells his camera that he has been thinking about evolution. Specifically natural selection and "survival of the fittest". He reasons that because a lion does not feel guilty when it kills a gazelle, that there would be nothing wrong with him harming or even killing a weaker human being.
This is a very striking statement, as it clearly demonstrates the inevitable, horrifying result of consistently applying a belief in naturalistic evolution to the way we live and think of others. Taken out of the realm of academic theory and applied to life, naturalistic evolution will lead to terrible harm inflicted on one human by another. This movie is far from an argument for theism, but it stands out among sci-fi films as being willing to shed light on the "dark side" of a worldview taken for granted by millions.
Near the end of the film, Matt comments that even after all Andrew has done, he is still not a "bad person". I have to say, after seeing all that Andrew had done to that point(watch the movie and see for yourself!), I'd love to ask Matt for his description of what a "bad person" WOULD have to do to earn the title! Does a poor upbringing or being mistreated by others give us license to lash out and harm or kill people? When DOES a person go from good, to neutral, to bad, and how does Matt know what this objective standard is?
Sure, it's being a bit nit-picky, but beneath the surface of small comments like Matt's are unstated yet deeply held philosophies about who we are and what right and wrong is that can be harmful if not examined and picked apart now and then.
Chronicle is a fantastic, dark-toned sci-fi flick that could have been revolutionary but settles for being a fantastic must-see film. It is also likely to give you some things to ponder about who we really are as humans when the curtain of idealism no longer hides our innermost desires.
Rated PG-13 for for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking.