The Review Revue: CHRONICLE

In “The Review Revue,” we turn dozens of movie reviews from all over the Internet into one handy blog post. It’s like super-concentrated orange juice for film criticism (with less pulp and Vitamin D). This week: we chronicle the reaction to CHRONICLE.

There are plenty of movies about super-heroes, but most are big budget affairs. The effects and scale that the genre demands typically keep it out of the reach of young, independent filmmakers. But a couple of talented up-and-comers managed to wrangle the subject to their will in CHRONICLE, which uses a clever formal trick to bring super-powered beings down to their level. Is the film ready to join the Justice League of American Super-Hero Movies? Or will it quickly get relegated to the Legion of Doomed Projects Destined for the $5 DVD Bin? Let’s find out.

Director: Josh Trank
Writers: Josh Trank, Max Landis
Cast: Dane DeHaan (Andrew), Alex Russell (Matt), Michael B. Jordan (Steve)
Plot Synopsis: Three ordinary teenagers discover an alien crystal that gives them telekinetic powers. Their powers are really cool until they aren’t anymore. Kind of like MySpace.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Metacritic Score: 69

Most Positive: Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly:

“Right from the start, the director, Josh Trank (it’s his first feature), working from a script he co-wrote with Max Landis (son of director John Landis), uses the haphazardly shot video-cam mode to stage the film’s special effects with a disarmingly minimal this is really happening! casualness… But the film’s secret weapon is that the effects, even when they’re achieved digitally, are made to look and feel analog, and they’re timed with a sinister finesse. Unlike, say, CLOVERFIELD, where you always knew that you were watching a giant digital beastie shot with jitter-cam, CHRONICLE replaces the usual glossy fake digital seamlessness with a physicality that renders everything tangibly real.”

(In Other Words:) It looks super, in more ways than one. The found footage movie and the superhero genre make an interesting combination. They both rose to box office prominence at almost the exact same time (the former with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT in 1999, the latter with X-MEN in 2000) and critics and industry analysts have been predicting the end of both for about that long. But found footage and super-hero movies continue to prove the naysayers wrong, so why not put them together in one mega-naysayer-dispelling monolith? Gleiberman was particularly impressed how well the two styles fit together visually as well as thematically. The found footage gimmick has always been a smart way for genre filmmakers to work around their budgetary limitations, but Trank does the opposite: uses your expectations of low-fi trickery to surprise you with big and unusually convincing special effects.

Most Negative: Kyle Smith, The New York Post:

“With great power comes the responsibility to make a decent movie, but the mysterious force running through CHRONICLE is the power to supersuck. Attempting to blend a cinematic smoothie out of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and SUPERMAN the movie instead feels more like what would happen if JACKASS suddenly started thinking it was about the nature of evil, with Johnny Knoxville mouthing quotations from Schopenhauer and Jung.”

(In Other Words:) Skeptical critics are a movie’s kryptonite. Even CHRONICLE’s backers would admit it is less of an original movie than a original recombinant of preexisting parts. Some liked the way Trank and Landis retrofitted found footage and super-heroes to work together; others, like Smith, did not (I’m not sure what makes its power to “supersuck” mysterious, though). He jokes that the boys get their powers from “a radioactive meteorite from the planet Cliché” and wishes “sci-fi writers could come up with something fresh instead of constantly rearranging the same dozen moldy ingredients.” That said, Smith means his description of the film as “JACKASS with philosophy” derisively, but I would totally pay $12 to see that movie. So this may be a taste issue.

Most Typical: Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Daily News:

“The telekinesis wrinkle also provides a desperately needed new spin on the movie’s one SUPER-tired device – the whole thing is framed as a found-footage documentary, à la BLAIR WITCH or CLOVERFIELD (or the original text, Philly’s own LAST BROADCAST). Here, Drew is the kid who compulsively records everything. Eventually he uses his powers to float his camera in space – liberating the movie from its mono-angle visual lockdown. Clever.”

(In Other Words:) The camerawork is more powerful than a locomotive. As Thompson explains — and as many other critics noted — Trank found a smart and effective work arounds for the main creative drawback to found footage movies: the fact that there needs to be a diegetic reason to keep the camera running and the fact that camera is traditionally tied to the movements and skills of one of the characters in the film, lending the movie a uniformly flat and boring visual style. Using the super-powered teens to levitate the camera changes the game in a fun and freeing way.

The One Review You Have to Read: Aaron Hillis, Village Voice:

“Unlike typical hero-in-long-underwear-origin tales, there’s a shrewd naturalism to this outlandish fantasy that befits these emotionally underdeveloped, horny, and otherwise average high schoolers. There’s no great call to adventure or heroism for boys who are more interested in playing pranks, filming extreme JACKASS-style stunts, winning talent shows, teaching themselves to levitate, and messing with chicks. It’s only when Andrew’s hostility bubbles over with superhuman hubris that the bromance explodes in sinister, surprising, seamlessly CGI-enhanced ways.”

(In Other Words:) Boys will be boys, even ones who move things with their minds. Hillis invokes the same JACKASS comparison as Smith, but he argues that the characters’ pranks don’t represent a lack of creativity on the part of the filmmakers, but rather a conscious choice to dwell on the inherent immaturity of these teenagers as a means of exposing the inherent plausibility behind every super-hero story. If you were 16, and you could fly, would you go around helping people or would you use your powers to become popular and get laid? Right. Hillis also gets the award for best headline of any CHRONICLE review: “LMFAO I Can Move Shit with My Mind: Teens with Superpowers in CHRONICLE.” ROFL.

The Critical Consensus In One Sentence From One Review: “You will believe an emotionally damaged nerd can fly.” — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

CHRONICLE is now playing in wide release.