07 February 2012

"What Does 'Hubris' Mean, Man?"

I should really be vlogging this review to capture the feel of Chronicle, Josh Trank's Carrie-esque movie for the YouTube generation but, of course, I don't vlog.

At a high-school rave, loner Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is persuaded by his more-intellectual-than-thou cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and handsome, charming class-president-to-be Steve (Michael B. Jordan) to go and film some freaky goings on in the woods. Andrew takes his video camera everywhere and films everything, from the mundane to the inappropriate. The three go down into a cavernous hole in the ground, where they are endowed with telekinetic powers by bright, flashy and creepy but otherwise unspecified forces. As they are 18, initially, they use their powers to lift up girls' skirts and dominate at beer pong, but it turns out that telekinesis is "like a muscle," which becomes stronger if exercised, so before long, they are moving people's cars around in car parks and flying. At first they get nosebleeds (the blood looks about as realistic as the corn syrup in Carrie), but these too diminish with practice. Matt and Steve want to keep their mad skillz to themselves but Andrew, who seems to be overwhelmed by having two whole friends, keeps taking things further, "pushing" a car off the road because the driver (who ends up in hospital) was annoying him and because, it seems, he liked the idea of capturing the crash on his camera.

The whole movie consists of video footage from Andrew's camera, from the camera of a girl vlogger they know and from CCTV cameras. Some have said that the "found footage" concept isn't really necessary here and to some extent I agree, but I think Trank is also trying to make a point about Gen YouTube and the growing tendency for people to chronicle vast chunks of their life via YouTube videos. Often, the daily vlogs are pretty boring--do we really need to see people shopping for groceries or trying to decide which movie to stream on Netflix?--but some go to the other extreme, capturing on camera events that people used to want to keep private.

And indeed in Chronicle, we see Andrew filming: at a funeral; while he is being verbally abused by his father (apparently an alcoholic; I say "apparently," because most of the film is shown through Andrew's camera and it is his edit--his take on things); and while his mother, who is seriously ill, coughs alone downstairs. Andrew is not a nice guy. He isn't nice when he's a loner and he doesn't become any less of an asshole once he has made some friends and developed super powers. Matt, who likes to use fancy words, especially those of Greek etymology, warns his cousin of the dangers of hubris, but Andrew remains oblivious and as he becomes more powerful, will Matt and Steve be able to control him?

Chronicle is pretty silly, which is fine, although the last 20 minutes disappointed me. I mean, there's silly and there's batshit crazy (and then there's Carrie 2: The Rage). For a fun, concise examination of one of those "what would you do if...?" thought experiments, though, Chronicle does the trick.

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