Although the current run of the found footage genre has its rocky moments such as the never-ending Paranormal Activity series, there have been some works which are triumphant like Troll Hunter. After the mock documentary approach on the monster movie (Cloverfield) and the zombie flick (Diary of the Dead), Josh Trank’s directorial debut brings a fresh take to the superhero movie.
Following an extraordinary discovery of a mysterious crater, three high school friends gain superhuman abilities such as telekinesis, flight and invulnerability. Of course being teenagers, the trio have enormous fun with their newly-found gifts, but then realise with great power comes great responsibility until one of them, Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), embraces his darker side.
Following the post-modern wittiness of Kick-Ass, everyone ought to know the mechanics of what makes a superhero movie, such as the origin, the hero’s responsibility and the final confrontation with the villain. With a runtime of a little over eighty minutes, Chronicle follows this formula and yet like M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, Max Landis’ script succeeds at making more of a psychological drama about ordinary and flawed human beings who are in possession of something extraordinary.
For most of the film, the story is told through Andrew’s camera as he decides to record his dysfunctional life featuring his dying mother, alcoholic father and his violent neighbourhood. If there is any comfort in his abusive life, it is the friendships of his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and one of the most popular students, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). As their powers get stronger and stronger, you can understand why Andrew sees this as a gift as an attempt to fight those he hate and then eventually his friends.
The challenge of shooting a mock documentary is the restrictions of a camera shooting in a particular way, certainly when it comes to drama. However, there are a number of sequences in which Andrew levitates his own camera which is a clever device as we can see all the actors performing on-screen. As the use of the camera works for most of the narrative, there is a subplot featuring a love interest who records her life as a blog that seems unnecessary. Made for $15 million, the first-time director presents some truly breathtaking action sequences, from the trio’s first flight through the clouds to the rather brutal climax which owes a huge debt to the anime masterpiece Akira.
Following the annoying young adults of Cloverfield, the three leads here are a very watchable trio as they are first established doing humorous pranks and later become convincing serious players. Whilst Michael B. Jordan is charismatic and Alex Russell is the most touching of the lot, Dane DeHaan is the stand-out as an abused teenager we can totally sympathise with and as he becomes more super, we see a transformation that is truly terrifying.
As you think the found footage genre has kind of run its course, Josh Trank’s superhero pic is more darker than one would expect with its “Carrie meets Akira” plot, plus a star-maker for its director and cast.
DIRECTOR: JOSH TRANK
SCREENWRITER: MAX LANDIS
STARRING: DANE DEHAAN, ALEX RUSSELL, MICHAEL B. JORDAN, MICHAEL KELLY
COUNTRY: UNITED STATES
RUNTIME: 83 MINS