Pueri Alleynienses

The May issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine arrived two weeks ago, but I’m so far behind in my reading that I’ve only just finished the April issue, which contained the delightfully well-written story,  “Pueri Alleynienses” by Stephen Ross. It opens with a wonderful example of how to grab a reader’s interest and hold it:

“Whatever happened to Tupper?” I asked. We had been chatting idly over a bottle of claret.

“I murdered him,” Coates answered, with all sincerity.

I believed him.

In four sentences, Ross establishes a lot of character and plants several questions: Who is Tupper? Why did Coates murder him? Why does the narrator believe him? Why does Coates so blithely confess?

The first and third questions are answered deftly and quickly, and the answers develop both Coates and the narrator, reveal their history of mutual animosity toward Tupper and each other. The other two questions, and their corollaries, aren’t answered until two masterfully executed twists near the end. There is very little action and yet the story is fascinating, filled with tension. This story was a great example of why I subscribe to Alfred Hitchcock.

 

Chronicle

I saw Chronicle last week, and I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t a terrible film, but it certainly wasn’t as good as the reviews would have you believe, with a Rotten Tomatoes score in the mid-80% range.

The movie opens with Andy setting up his new video camera. “I’m filming everything now,” he tells his father, who is pounding on the door. Andy is clearly established as the protagonist, and he’s a relatively sympathetic one at first: the picked-on underdog, largely friendless, son of a dying mother and abusive, alcoholic father. The problem is that Andy never grows beyond that, and we never have a clear grasp of what Andy wants. To be liked? Maybe. He asks his cousin, Matt, “Do you like me?” But it never seems like that’s really what he wants, and even in the scenes that hint at it–like the storm-cloud confrontation with Steve–it’s not clear. In that scene, he accuses Steve of not really liking or caring about him, because before they got powers, Steve wasn’t his friend. So even if friendship is what Andy wants, he is incapable of recognizing when it is offered to him.

The character who really seems to want something is Matt. But Matt doesn’t grow, either. He’s a thoughtful person with a sense of responsibility when we meet him, and he pretty much ends up that way. So even if he were considered to be the protagonist, he doesn’t struggle with anything that makes me care about him or the story.

The movie wasn’t all bad. It had stunning effects and some genuinely honest moments. The way the boys discover their powers and learn to use them seemed authentic. Teenage boys who gain telekinesis really would use it to play silly pranks. Several scenes between Andy and Matt were touching. In spite of those positives, though, there was no sense of struggle and I was bored and anxious for the film to end less than 2/3 of the way though it.