Review: Chronicle

Since the Golden Age of comic books, folks have been imagining what it would be like if ordinary people came across extraordinary power. But not until 2012 with “Chronicle” has anyone truly attempted to capture this notion with a sense of realism. Josh Trank and Max Landis have done just that with their low-budget found-footage take on superpower archetypes.

Found footage has exploded in the last 10 years. “The Blair Witch Project” just scratched the surface of the storytelling method’s appeal toward the general public as well as the medium’s secret ability to convince people that because it looks real, we for some reason must psychologically react to it as if it’s real.

Creating the illusion is about more than using lesser-quality lenses, however. At just 26 years old, Landis and Trank understand today’s teens better than anyone making wide-release Hollywood movies right now. The trio at the film’s center gets it too, and it results in some believable characters who react to developing telekinetic superpowers in ways you’d expect teenagers to: pranks, general tomfoolery and showing off.

Although three teenagers come across this power, the story belongs to Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a loner who gets bullied at school in addition to a depressing home life that includes a deathly ill mother and an abusive father. He begins recording his life as if to document his misery (not a stretch considering the number of personal YouTube channels out there), and this serves as our only window into the story.

After his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) convinces him to come to a barn rave (kids these days), Andrew, Matt and Matt’s friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the most popular kid in his class, discover a hole in the ground. Upon exploring it underground, they find some kind of alien object, and the next thing we know they have telekinetic abilities, powers that grow stronger over time.

The boys’ newfound strength forges a secret bond between them, and Andrew has friends for the first time. He even uncovers some popularity—a loner’s fantasy realized. But Andrew is also emotionally volatile. Unlike his friends, he lacks control over his life, and after an incident in which he pushes a car off the road and into a pond, things change drastically, both in the story and in the tone of the film.

For a good chunk of the movie, Trank and Landis use their unique premise to explore how one’s use of power and control can be dictated by personality, emotional wellness and social status. In no other phase of life do these feelings wield greater emotional consequences than in one’s teenage years.

As much as you want to believe Andrew can step back and look at things logically and communicate feelings rather than bottle them up (as Matt and Steve so often try to get him to do), you know he’s going to pop at some point. Fascinatingly, he is both our main character and our source of antagonism in the story and it actually works. The film plays tug of war between sympathy and outrage at how Andrew handles his situation to keep the audience riveted.

What happens next can only be described as gutsy. Things take a dark and chaotic turn and the scope of the story goes beyond what found-footage movies ought to do. The story remains gripping enough to keep us invested in the outcome, but it’s a wild, wild ride that might lose some viewers in the process.

The found footage gets tough for Trank to keep up in this final act, and it makes one question why it was necessary at all. Security cameras, cell phones and other people’s assorted recording devices document this part of the story because the original documenter is off driving film’s course of events, yet it’s all perfectly edited together. “Found footage” would seem to imply the importance of the story being documented in a realistic manner, but that’s not the case with “Chronicle.” The medium appears to be utilized here solely for that authenticated look and to allow us access to personal moments for the characters. As such, Landis’ biggest challenge as a writer had to be making up excuses for the camera to be in the right place at the right time.

As striking and powerful as the climax of “Chronicle” is, it blows the door way too wide open. What began as such an intimate story to start finishes like a blockbuster. An exciting finish to be sure (on $11 million especially), but one with a cognizant disregard for the tone of the earlier acts of the movie. It’s not a disappointment, but it could have concluded more meaningfully if done on a smaller scale.

Especially when you consider that it’s a rookie effort on multiple counts, “Chronicle” impresses with its unique riff on super stories. It also proves that a $200-million budget is not a prerequisite to making a movie about people with extraordinary powers. Considering it probes deeper into human psychology and power dynamics than those studio tent-poles, maybe those franchises need to take a good hard look at themselves.

 

3.5/5 Stars

 

Chronicle

Directed by Josh Trank

Written by Max Landis and Josh Trank

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan

 

1 Comment

  1. 3guys1movie says:

    We reviewed this film recently as well. My two partners in crime were much more enamored with the film than I was. I thought the found footage was annoying and took up valuable time that could have been used on character development of the other two characters besides Andrew. Similarly, while I understand high school boys are young dumb and full of cum, these three and Andrew in particular seemed to have rocks in their heads. I mean they had to look up the definition of telekinesis and Andrew despite possessing the power to fly and knock down walls robs the local gas and sip? Overall this film had a decent premise but was poorly executed.

    Hated this film but enjoyed checking out your blog and thoughts on the film.

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