Written by Max Landis.
In writing Chronicle, Landis has created the film character I personally find the most relatable. Andrew Detmer is an enclosed, anti-social school student with power fantasies and inappropriate sexual desires. There’s even a scene where, with his newly-found telekinetic powers, he accidentally spunks all over a girl. It goes in her hair, everywhere.
When people talk about “superheroes” – or in this case, just people with advanced capabilities – they often talk about the dark side. People say Jennifer Lee‘s Frozen is about the dark side of having superpowers, or that David S. Goyer‘s Man of Steel was trying too hard to be. But just because a story explores the dark side of abilities, that doesn’t mean they’re actually showing us the darker side of that character. People only think they are, because often characters become defined by what they do. Instead, what Landis and
Fantastic Four director Josh Trank do is to introduce us to this corrupt Hobbit of a teenager, and then put him in a situation where you know he’s going to become upgraded. This isn’t as if Peter Park decides to use his identity as Spider-Man to help people, and then in the third act, the dark side of his powers start to show – instead, we’re shown how truly disturbed this person is, so that it becomes ironic and dangerous for him to then be blessed with the power of flight. Rather than seeing his development into a supervillain, you can already see that he’s one cliched lab accident away from actually being one to start with, which makes the story less a tragedy and more of a sick comedy, as if the situation happened to the wrong person. Fate was aiming for the school photographer, but instead it accidentally zapped Lex Luthor, if you look past Dane DeHaan also being Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner). If only he could spunk into my hair, too…
There’s a tradition of “superhero” films (although there’s some debate about whether this is one of them) entering a revisionist “post-comic” era, where characters are dark and realistic. And gritty. The problem with this is that they end up doing what Arrow does – taking on a certain style as to appear dark and gritty, but actually just being a bit pretentious. Storytelling is about the mind, and its condition, and what some people are capable of if they’re given the right circumstance. Rather than shoot everything at night in the rain and have the characters talk in muffled voices, instead the first act decides to just establish who they are. So before anything even really happens, we can see the world as being set-up to be three different worlds for each character, before bringing them into the same story and following each of them to see what happens. It’s like a scientific experiment, but without the need to have any actual scientific experiments.
Yes, parts of it are very dark. But that isn’t brought across in the visual style or by having Michael Caine explain the themes of the story in one monologue instead of threading it into that story, it comes from within. When Detmer starts pulling someone’s teeth out and dismembering a fly, and crushing a car, it’s personal actions he chooses to take. But they make sense, because we already know who he is. This is not an origin story. Origin stories are about how aliases come to exist, using characters as conduits for them. This is about taking three different characters from three different worlds and inserting the element of the “superhero” genre and seeing where that takes them. The realism is only there because it is, and not because it’s trying to hail a renaissance in filmmaking. The found footage concept – Trank’s idea – does contribute to the story in an atmospheric way. It makes it more grounded, so the style doesn’t have to be forged.
And yet, Chronicle‘s real triumph is the way it makes you wish you could unleash you inner supervillain. Torturing defenceless creatures and blowing a cheerleader’s skirt over her hair – tell me you too haven’t fantasised about these things. Were I to acquire those abilities, I’d probably make creepy videos of me showing my tooth collection, too. I’d put them next to the dead months on my windowsill. Seriously, if I had X-ray vision… damn. I’d be a twenty-four hour tripod, undressing people with my eyes. What I suppose I’m trying to say is that Andrew comes from a place deep inside us, a force within, that nature wants to unleash. He’s the Human condition, the primal instinct to survive. And he’ll commit any unorthodox acts to do so, because that’s just the advantage he has.
Apart from the shitty domestic background, I so wish I could be like Andrew Detmer…