Review: Chronicle (2012)
With found-footage movies flooding our multiplexes and even beginning to invade our televisions, it’s nice to see one that strays from the horror genre and tries something new with the format.
Chronicle, a found-footage superhero movie directed by Josh Trank and written by Max Landis (the son of John Landis), is an innovative action film with some neat gimmicks, genuine thrills and more than a passing resemblance to Akira. Just don’t think it’s the epitome of the superhero movie, because it’s not.
The story follows Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a teenage outsider who is bullied by jerks at school and abused by his drunken father at home. Andrew’s life sucks, so in a mostly unexplained decision, he decides to chronicle his life with a video camera.
One evening Andrew goes with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) to a rave at an old barn. After wandering around the party, creepily filming people dancing, Andrew, Matt, and class president Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find a mysterious hole in the ground not far from the barn and they go exploring. While underground, they find a strange meteorite. The meteorite seems to be emitting radiation. Steve goes to touch it. The camera shorts out. When the footage comes to, Andrew, Matt, and Steve have telekinetic powers.
Chronicle feels fresh. By utilizing the found-footage format, the powers seem authentic, the characters are sympathetic, and the thrills are really thrilling. A scene of the characters playing catch with a football while floating in the clouds makes you giddy with envy. Too bad there aren’t any alien meteorites sitting around where I live.
The first thing the characters do with the powers is goof off. You never see them fighting crime or saving the world, merely building Lego or teasing patrons at a grocery store. The actors are pretty good, too, for the majority of the film. Michael B. Jordan in particular, known from his bit parts in The Wire and Red Tails, has loads of charisma as the affable Steve. It’s a shame his character isn’t focused on more.
The best scene in the film is a high school talent show. In an effort to make Andrew more popular, Steve puts on a magic show with Andrew as his assistant. With the guise of it being an illusion, Andrew is then able to show off his highly-tuned telekinetic powers. The high school audience freaks out. You will too when watching the scene. It’s the best example of the type of fun Chronicle revels in.
It also reveals how desperate Andrew is to be loved and how much he relishes showing off his new skill, something he is genuinely the best at.
The found-footage is the film’s greatest strength and also its biggest inconsistency. For the first half of the film the format immerses you, letting you experience these powers seemingly for the first time — powers that have become a dime-a-dozen through our familiarity with movies, comics and video games. Everything is more vivid because of the naturalism of the format.
Unfortunately, some of the writing is too ludicrous, too rooted in comic books to serve the format. Andrew’s drunken father is the biggest walking stereotype I’ve seen in a movie in awhile and he is the main motivation for Andrew’s actions. If we’re meant to take the film’s climax seriously, we have to take the threat of Andrew’s father as real, and I frankly could not. He’s too much of a cartoon to gel with the rest of the film’s characters and serve as a real threat.
As well, the continuance of the found-footage format during the film’s climax is noticeably forced. The filmmakers struggle to come up with new ways to introduce cameras into the various locations of the final scene, and even if the cameras were present, why the characters would be using their telekinetic powers to use them in the midst of a fight is beyond me. Trank should have gone the route of Neill Blomkamp and just ditched the format when it was no longer viable. There is no point in being slave to a format if it no longer works.
However, the film’s ending being its weakest part isn’t anything new for a found-footage film. In fact, I can’t think of a found-footage movie with an ending better than its beginning.
As a whole, Chronicle reminded me a lot of Cloverfield. There’s plenty of cinematic innovation on display in it and while you’re watching it, everything seems very thrilling. It’s a successful reworking of tried and true genre conventions with a shiny modern twist.
Directed by Josh Trank; written by Max Landis; starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan.
7 out of 10