“You want to play some FIFA?” “Sure.” “Go turn it on then.” “Ugh.” A pause. Then both of us make the arm-outstretched Marcel-Marceau-as-Jedi move to suggest we are turning on the console with our minds. Abject failure. Then, “Oh hey, that reminds me, have you seen the trailer for Chronicle?” I had not.
Pretty cool, right? No voiceover, cold open, a growing mystery all presented as found footage surrounding a few stock movie characters. There’s some genuine shock and tension, all shot well within the film’s single-camera conceit. The dialogue is restricted to what is totally functional: we learn enough about our puerile leads to build a serviceable level of empathy, while the initial creativity of their pranks shows enough originality to put a little trust in the filmmakers’ ability to get a story moving. Great stuff!
But the trailer keeps going. Their new powers take a dark turn. It’s not playtime any more. It’s raining… in their souls. They learn how to fly and go to New York (of course). The weird-looking one crushes a car. The normal-looking ones are worried about the weird-looking one. Weirdy fus-ro-dahs a policeman. A timer appears, showing just under 60 days, though as trailer-viewers we are just as inclined to read it as 60 expired minutes of the 83 minute film: events up to this point have followed a fairly standard three-act storyline, respect for which our buddy and mentor Film Crit HULK has eloquently disabused us. All that’s left for the trailer is Chronicle‘s dénouement and we can forgo seeing it at all.
Then it rewinds. Past the point we came in. A hole in the ground, the heroes, and… “look at this! Holy…”
At this point we have to ask whether we should. We know it’s a maguffin. Whether it’s owned by the US military for SECRET BUSINESS or by aliens or by ACME Corp is of little importance. We’ve already seen enough of the film to guess it makes little difference to how the story is about to pan out. If someone were to leak the last fifteen minutes onto any video hosting site the whole Chronicle experience would be freely available, which is to say, why should I spend ten bucks (Sterling) and over an hour waiting for twenty minutes of narrative closure, which Cloverfield veterans will suspect is not on the menu.
The Chronicle trailer is a marvellous piece of film. Two minutes of dense, highly suggestive, unsettling and forceful storytelling. But I can’t shake the feeling it’s more advert-trolling than cinema. The gestures to originality in its presentation sit on top of some pretty conventional characters and plotting, even throwing in a topless blonde teen in the film’s bluntest act of bro-baiting. Sure, the characters are teenagers, but the director is not, and knows exactly what he’s doing. It looks like the Lost/Fast Forward/Alcatraz/The Walking Dead approach to story – get the hook first and the narrative, presumably, follows.
I say all this on the back of a trailer, and I must apologise to Chronicle for bearing the brunt of some simmering distaste. I’m more than prepared to believe it might even be a pretty good movie! But this is the film for which years of marketing strategy has been clearing the way, a film that barely needs to exist beyond the confines of its advertising campaign, accompanied by a trailer that gives almost everything away.
Will you see Chronicle for us and tell us how it went? Let us know in the comments.
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