Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: CHRONICLE: the triumph of alphaghetti

The notion of the alpha male in casual use gets it all wrong. Well, not all wrong. Calling the dominant guy in the group the alpha is correct. But if you change the context he might well be reduced to beta status or plummet to a shelf of lowly gammas. And there can only be one in a given situation. If a delta successfully challenges the alpha, meet the new alpha. It is not intended to describe a constant status. So, if you hear of Baz or Gaz described as alpha males it's really only potential that's being claimed. And if you hear ANYONE describe himself as an alpha male then you should know he's only just running some advertising copy up the flagpole: alphas never have to tell you what they are.

Chronicle opens with Andrew whose life is comprised of reminders that he is not an alpha male. He focuses a video camera on a mirror attached to his door. His father's drunk an angry shouting invades and the mirror shakes from the fist hitting the other side. For a second the jolt of the violence combines with the odd thought that the door seemed to shake by itself.

School is a bully-infested jungle, alleviated for Andrew only by his chunky hunky cousin Matt who drives him there and back everyday, peppering the conversation with Schopenhauer whom Matt reads for the hell of it. We see him pov as Andrew is taking his camera everywhere, even to the big party in the woods that Matt insists Andrew go to ... minus the nerdy camera.

Minus the camera? Matt doesn't get it. The camera is what stops Andrew from fading into the wallpaper. The only girl who gives him any attention at the party also has a camera and even though she's opened the door for him all he can do is mumble flatly. And then a tanked neoderthal picks on him. Sobbing in frustration out in the carpark he is dragged along by one of Matt's friends to where something worth videoing has been discovered.

It's a hole in the ground that leads to a tunnel that leads to a cave filled with huge crystals emitting bright multicoloured light. When the crystals are touched they change colour. The trio are wonderstruck. They are richer for the experience, having seen something unique which has given them superpowers.

Superpowers. Goodbye teen troubles, right? Wrong. This is a magic power story like a million folk tales, before it, it is told as a caution against a thing that philosophy junkie Matt has already introduced into the dialogue: hubris. Schopenhauer suggested that the only way out of being slaves to our will was a kind of aesceticism, power through self-denial.

The three empowered friends, Andrew, Matt and Steve, work on their skills and the inevitable montage of what teens with superpowers would do ensues but this time it doesn't just stay funny. Of note here is the flying sequence which is delivered with such dizzying joy that if you don't smile irresistably at it you should start thinking about drafting a will and testament.

We are given a clear indication that the essence of each of these characters is not transformed into some godlike beneficence by these powers but accentuated for all its moral turbulence and lightning bolt judgements. There's no great stretch here in seeing the major underlying point about the nature of the state of adolescence, the bridge crossing where our personal powers are galloping into definition as we head towards innumerable mistakes in their use. We're about to see these teenagers in super form.

The flim I kept thinking of when watching Chronicle was George Romero's 1976 gem Martin. Martin is or isn't a vampire. He thinks he is. His cousin who is his ward in life thinks he is, too. He doesn't have fangs and walks around in the sunlight, delivering groceries. But we've already seen how he gets to the blood he thinks he needs and it involves syringes and murder. If he isn't a vampire then he's a serial killer. If he is a vampire then he was turned into one at an awkward age and will be a mixed up teenager for all eternity. The genius of this, emphasised by the low key indy film look of it, is that none of this is too far away from the realities of youth, particularly male youth.

To my mind it's important that the central trio is male. Doing this allows clarity in the depiction and examination of the struggle for alpha status among males. The possibility of sequels (very much open by the ending) would allow for and even demand further gender-based exploration. For now, we are in the male world, kept barely civil through friendship, brought to puncturing point and frequently breached with violence.

Once you accept this, it's not difficult to see where the film is going but the value is left to individual performance and the mix of verite found footage and impressive special effects in the bravura climax. This film frequently surprised me by choosing against a mainstream solution. Two moments present themselves: the only real use of sourced music on the soundtrack is rich by being the exception (and made me instantly thankful that they hadn't wallpapered the movie with a contemporary jukebox) and the fact of the choice of song which is both poignant and exhilarating; the second moment involves a spider. The latter is a perfect use of restraint to illustrate a character's development. It's a small gesture, quietly disturbing.

The other film Chronicle reminded me of is Primer, a 2004 sci fi film about time travel as a backyard project which managed to be both innovative and provocative by pushing the ideas far forward through the characters without breaking into caricature. That's what happens here, too, and a deft use of cinema technology has allowed for some impressive visuals which only ever serve this superhero origins story. They have superpowers. They are still teenagers. It looks like fantasy. It looks like home.

I saw this at the beginning of a Melbourne heat wave. The cinema (a new multiplex) had no air con and felt wrong from the word go. By the time the credits rolled I had long forgotten about it. Chronicle is intelligent and thrilling. It is exhilarating cinema.

No comments:

Post a Comment