Pros: A relatively smart, innovative movie, some good performances and a surprisingly impressive final showdown.
Cons: Some really daft exposition regarding 'found footage', never overwhelming, obvious special effects.
Where on Earth did Josh Trank come from? In 2007, he wrote and directed episodes of a cancelled TV show, The Kill Point, and five years later bursts onto the scene with a critically acclaimed twist on the superhero genre, apparently having worked on nothing else in between. Honestly? I kind of hate the guy. There, I said it. At the ripe age of 26, he has managed to garner the kind of success many filmmakers spend their whole careers trying to achieve, and he’s done it with a film not unworthy of the attention it’s receiving. Utilising the ‘found footage’ method of filmmaking, typically reserved for the horror genre, and combining it with traditional ‘superhero origin’ fare, Chronicle makes for a decent watch and will no doubt garner a large cult following. For me, where it mostly fails is in depending too much on its special effects and, while also having a decent story and characters to go along with, never quite reaching the dizzy heights it had the potential to.
Andrew Detmer, captured brilliantly here by relative newcomer Dane DeHaan, is a fairly typical, angst-ridden teenager with some not-so-typical issues. With his mother on her deathbed and his father spiralling ever further into alcoholism, Andrew decides it’s time to document his life on film as a kind of defence mechanism. Unpopular to the point of being bullied at school, Andrew one night attends a house party that will change his and his only friends’ lives forever. A mysterious hole in the ground, leading to a cavern containing strange rocks and light formations, has given Andrew, along with Matt and Steve (played by Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan respectively), powers of telepathy. These powers, in their infancy, seem exciting and offer the three boys opportunities way beyond anything they had dreamed for themselves. However, as they learn to harness their powers further, they become more and more irresponsible in their actions, leading them closer and closer to conflict and challenging them to choose between good and evil.
It’s an engaging film, led solidly by an engaging central concept, and one by which I was never bored. The characters develop nicely and, aside from a seemingly pointless romantic sub-plot (the function of which seems only to be to introduce a new camera angle), the story moves along at a relatively decent pace. Chronicle seems to accelerate as it nears its climax, in fact, gathering momentum along with the weight of the events that unfold before us. There are plot holes, it has to be said, but they are fairly inconsequential ones. The hole in the ground is never explained, nor are the origins of the powers wielded by these three young men. The hole in the ground is closed up and the area being cordoned off, but this never comes to anything other than to give us the suggestion of administrative interference. Such things should be forgiven here, though, as the point of this film is not to over-analyse; it is to sit back and enjoy the ride.
The thing that stood out for me the most in this film was the thing that came closest to spoiling it altogether. I am not against ‘found footage’, as it were, but I do believe when it’s being used it should be done with care and attention. The Blair Witch Project (1999, dirs. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez) is arguably where the fascination started and it is probably one of my favourite films of all time; certainly the only film that has ever really, truly scared me. The tradition has continued, notably with the popular Spanish horror film [Rec] (2007, dirs. Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza) and online crowd-sourcing success The Tunnel (2011, dir. Carlo Ledesma), but to be done right it is important that the reasons for the camera (or cameras, as the case may be) to be running do not need to be over explained. In Chronicle almost every scene or character introduction (particularly in the case of the previously mentioned romantic sub-plot) seems to warrant a line of dialogue explaining why the camera is running and where in the scene it is placed. Aside from being distracting, this really does very little to inform the audience at all. Yes, the cameras are running, we get it – that’s what the film is set around… is it really necessary to constantly remind us? That said, towards the end of the film, there is one particularly delightful sequence where the phones and pocket cameras of members of the public are telepathically snatched from their hands and placed all around the action – it’s a silly device in terms of the story but for the few moments where it occurs, it makes for a nice touch.
So while I was never overwhelmed by Chronicle, it is indeed worth seeking out. While the special effects are a little obvious and the film spends far too much time explaining away its central hook, there is a lot to be enjoyed in following the story of these three charming characters through their adventure. It does have a great sense of adventure, this film, and at times it is genuinely hilarious. It strikes a really good balance of playfulness and underlying tension, before unleashing all of its rage on the city in which it is based. Something that can just as easily be said about the performance from DeHaan, who surely has announced himself as one to watch in future. Will it stand the test of time and become the cult classic it is threatening to? I have a feeling it might, but let’s first consider this: are there sequels in the pipeline and is this the start of franchise? I’m not sure whether or not that would be a good thing.