‘Chronicle’ Movie Review
When you actually think about it, it’s surprising we didn’t get a found-footage superhero movie before 2012. The superhero genre has been going for decades, but has really gained steam since the success of the newest Batman franchise. Likewise, the found-footage genre has substantially increased since the success of The Blair Witch Project back in 1999. Combining both of these genres, like Josh Trank’s Chronicle, is a novel idea that already sets the pictures apart from plenty of other movies. The odd mix alone makes a viewing worth it, although there is plenty more to like about the film.
Chronicle takes place in rainy Seattle, WA, when three high school students, all having unique personalities, stumble upon an unknown piece of sci-fi machinery in the backwoods of a raging party. When they come in contact with the mysterious object, they are subjected to rare telekinetic powers. At first, this simply allows them to pick up small objects and rearrange them. However, much like muscles, the more the power is used, the stronger it becomes. This, like the viral marketing campaign has shown, allows the boys to fly themselves (and others) around.
Toting a handheld camera, the film’s main character, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), documents the powers as they progress. He is flanked by his philo-psychological cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and the uber-popular jock Steve (Michael B. Jordan). With differing characters and differing personalities, the film follows the three guys as they try to make sense of their powers and how they should use them. It slowly becomes an internal struggle pertaining to power.
This internal struggle is what makes the film ultimately work. Although the Batman franchise may have catapulted every comic hero onto the screen, it’s really the X-Men franchise that has started the modern superhero movie boom. Every year, we get our fair share of superhero movies, whether they are good, bad, deserving, or not. Unlike those films, though, Chronicle seems to keep itself grounded in a more believable reality. I’m not saying telekinesis is believable, but instead I’m pointing out that superhero stories are inherently unbelievable. They are more created as a way to take human themes into superhuman territories. Taking place with “ordinary” individuals successfully creates a narrative that is much more grounded in reality.
Likewise, Trank tried to use the found-footage genre to his advantage. This filming style is reality-based, making it seem like the film was actually retrieved, accessed, and played back. However, Trank’s particular style of found-footage creates a montage of differing points-of-view, shifting from one camera to the next and back. This, unfortunately, makes the film seems much less real. If the entire story was shown through the lens of one camera, it’d probably work a lot better in the found-footage department. Instead, it must sacrifice this one camera approach in order to better document some crazy telekinetic sequences. You can’t blame them too much, but it still puts a significant chink in the armor.
It’s pretty easy to point out what doesn’t work as well for the film, but when looking at the good parts, it doesn’t really matter too much. The three main characters act naturally, which is amazing for two reasons – the difficult task and the relatively unknown actors involved. Michael B. Jordan (Friday Night Lights, The Wire) is the only name that really sticks out, but the other two (especially Russell) are not even close to household names. They really do a fantastic job of hiding how little experience they have. Although the other characters add little to no depth, it doesn’t really matter when you take these three into account.
At the end of the short 83-minute run time, the chances are you’ll like the film more than you loathe it. While it doesn’t furnish the best ending or create a coherent style, it successfully blurs the lines pertaining to power and friendship. Even I’ve mentioned this is a superhero type movie, but really its more like a superhuman story, as the powers aren’t really used for vigilance like most superhero movies. All of this aside, the story succeeds in a way that is really amazing when you compare it to similar films.