The found-footage movie has become something of a horror and Sci-Fi movie staple of late and these genres seemed to have claimed a monopoly over its usage. With Chronicle however, the already rather saturated market for superhero movies was given a valuable shot in the arm using this novel narrative technique. Debut director Josh Trank and novice screenwriter Max Landis (son of John) have delivered a low budget sleeper hit which boasts an engrossing story and particularly impressive effects given its relatively meagre budget (around $15million).
The film follows three American High School students from varying social strata. Steve (Michael B. Jordan, aka: Wallace from The Wire) is a popular jock running for School President, Matt (Alex Russell) is an intelligent and sensitive soul and also cousin to our lead focus and key cameraman Andrew (Dane DeHaan). Loner Andrew has decided to film his day to day activities and through his camera lens we get a clear insight into his unhappy home life. His mother is critically ill and requires constant care and medication the family can scant afford. His dad is a violent drunk, a former fireman who seemingly loathes Andrew as well as the general world at large. He is also bullied at school where he is a clear outsider and far removed from the popularity of Matt or Steve.
After letting Matt talk him into attending a rave, Andrew inevitably has a bad time of it and slinks off outside to escape the unwanted attention his camera brings. Steve tracks him down and drags Andrew and his camera to film something ‘cool’ he and Matt have found in the woods. The ‘cool’ thing turns out to be a deep hole in the ground. Matt and Steve dive in first, followed grudgingly by an unhappy Andrew. What the trio find down there is unclear, it’s a supernatural and perhaps alien entity of some description, but once they are back on terra firma we start seeing the three friends developing strong telekinetic powers. Andrew’s roaming camera captures their achievements as they advance from building Lego towers using only the power of their minds, to being able to zip around the sky like birds.
The first two thirds of the film are a fun look at three friends gaining special powers and mucking around with them to no major consequence. They do the kind of things you’d expect teenage boys with super powers to do, including terrorising the public with floating toys at the local store, blowing girl’s skirts up using gusts of wind and moving people’s cars to random parking bays. Sure enough however, things take a turn for the worse as the emotionally troubled Andrew struggles to control his growing powers. He begins to resent who he sees as lesser mortals and seems unwilling to curb the use of his increasing abilities. Matt tries to keep him in check but the two cousins struggle to see eye-to eye when it comes to how their new skills should be utilised.
The whole film is a great premise which is well executed, although perhaps the found-footage concept is a little stretched at times. Matt’s love interest’s convenient use of filming for her blog feels a little contrived for example (who films their front door?), but you know what? I’m willing to let it go.
Director and Screenwriter alike deserve great praise for how slick the movie progresses. The scenes of the three friends developing their skills and bonding in the process feel genuine and believable. It’s as close to reality as a film like this could get. The slow transition into dark menace likewise feels very natural. The tone shifts and as Andrew becomes more reclusive and tortured, the set pieces become more impressive too. The flying sequences look good throughout but the climatic fight sequence is particularly gripping.
Chronicle in many ways does follow several standard Superhero movie traits, namely the geek inheriting new found powers and his inability to control his anger etc etc etc. What makes it work as a movie though is the refreshing take it offers on the genre in general. It really feels more like a teen drama for huge swathes of the film and so when the superhero stuff does kick in, it seems surprisingly real and thus all the more powerful.
It’s a real breakout hit which will surely mean bigger and better things in the future for messers Trank and Landis.
DIRECTOR: JOSH TRANK
SCREENWRITER: MAX LANDIS
STARRING: DANE DEHAAN, ALEX RUSSELL, MICHAEL B. JORDAN, MICHAEL KELLY
COUNTRY: UNITED STATES
RUNTIME: 83 MINS