Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan
The story of Chronicle focuses on three high school students named Andrew, Matt and Steve. With an abusive, alcoholic father, a dying mother and regular bullying, Andrew is the least popular and most emotionally damaged of the trio. His cousin Matt while offering him rides to school, does not give Andrew the emotional support and anchor he needs, instead reading up on philosophers and attempting to woo a blond video blogger. Meanwhile Steve is the guy everybody knows and loves running for class president, who is drawn to these cousins through their shared experience of gaining telekinetic powers.
One of the first things that grabbed me about Chronicle was its depiction of its teenage characters. As somebody close to the age of the protagonists, none of the dialogue or dynamics between the three leads seemed false. This is not a film, which mocks teenage life but instead reflects it and if John Hughes were to have made a “superhero” movie, it would look something like Chronicle. The groundwork for this is laid by the screenplay of Max Landis and strengthened by the three lead performances of Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan. Their naturalism, chemistry and relatively unknown status mean that we automatically buy their friendship.
What is equally refreshing is the way in which Chronicle realistically portrays the utilization of superpowers in the real world. Again, as somebody close to the age of the lead characters, I found myself with a knowing enthusiasm in the opening movements. As the three mess around with their powers, using it as a further source of amusement and entertainment there is the acknowledgement that this is how many would elect to demonstrate their ability. It is surprising in this modern wave of “superhero” films that it has taken this long for a film like Chronicle to come along and say that getting powers would not instigate a sudden idealism but instead a new found source of enthusiasm.
Out of all the found footage films I have seen, Chronicle is the one, which justifies the decision to start and continue filming in the most interesting way. Andrew is somebody who wants to put a barrier between him and the world, which has dealt him a short straw. The camera offers him both an escape but also the opportunity to share his pain. As Andrew grows stronger with his powers, he starts to make the camera float around him, making the film more steady in its shots and cinematic. The way in which the film’s style gradually changes to mirror the development of Andrew’s power continues to build this subtle, reflective relationship between him and his camera.
This gradual development of the film’s cinematography also reveals a great deal of flair from director Josh Trank. While in film’s such as District 9, a more documentary esque approach is abruptly disposed of, Chronicle has a more gradual progression from your average found footage to cinematic shots, that if you missed everything prior, would not make you think you were watching a found footage film.
Chronicle is also not limited to merely one camera. In the film’s climatic action sequence we cut to multiple views whether it be from news, security or bystanders cameras. While this is in one way a strength, as it continues to show us new ways in which the found footage shooting style can be taken, it also leads into one of the movie’s major flaws. The character of Casey is one who is incredibly superfluous and seems to only exist in order for there to be a camera pointing at a certain character at a certain point. The “romance” element between her and Matt did not interest me in the slightest and took away screen time from other elements of the narrative that should have been developed more. It seemed like something that came from an entirely different movie and appeared to have no direct relevance to anything else happening in the film.
Chronicle’s main strength is its unexpected darkness and dramatic weight. While it has interesting contributions to make to an overdone shooting style, a relatable use of superpowers and recognizable teenage dialogue and dynamics, it is the character development of Andrew, which sticks in the mind long after you walk out of the cinema. This is a film that with such a brief running time (84 minutes with credits) and narrative hook (Teenagers get superpowers) that the characters could easily be paper-thin. However as you may have gleamed from the film’s reasoning for recording, there is a character at the film’s core, which gives it a beating heart and tragic undertone.
Dane DeHaan plays Andrew and while he is given the most complex, intriguing character, does give the film’s best performance. One of the challenges of his role is that for the film’s first fifteen or so minutes, where we are introduced to the characters, as he is recording we must learn about him through his voice. However as we see more of Andrew, we realize that DeHaan is not just a promising voice actor who we will hardly see in the film (Like Hud in Cloverfield) but instead provides the film with arguably its most charismatic presence. You feel genuine pain for Andrew and there is a sense of foreboding throughout the film, as you know that he is headed down a dark path. The film’s imagery and Andrew’s character arc are eerily reminiscent of and evoke memories of the Columbine tragedy and its later dramatizations in films such as Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (Andrew infact even mimics a gun shot as he uses his powers to throw somebody to the ground).
In fact many of Andrew’s and DeHaan’s finest moments, come when the character is silent. Such as a scene where a spider crawling along the floor, is lifted into the air and split into pieces by Andrew’s powers. Visually it is a simple scene, which illustrates the extent of his powers. It also however, shows just how cold and chilling Andrew is, as he easily, perhaps gleefully, brutally dismembers a living thing. Andrew is a complex character, somebody who is clearly deeply psychologically damaged, through a mixture of nature and nurture. Two equally chilling scenes that highlight the performance of DeHaan is one where Andrew describes his role as an apex predator, crushing a car. Whilst another takes place in a toilet, having Andrew explain to his camera and therefore the audience, how he used his powers to remove somebody’s teeth.
Speaking of foreseeing outcomes, Chronicle may be one of the most genuinely unpredictable films I have seen in a while. I genuinely had no idea how the film was going to end, this is only the second film of 2012 I have seen, yet I wonder how many other films this year will have me wondering about its conclusion in such a way. The film is also aided by its short running time as the film doesn’t outstay its welcome and moves along at a steady, consistent pace. Chronicle however, like its characters is not perfect and the Casey subplot is not the film’s only flaw.
Despite being well shot for a low budget, the third act action (The third act in films of this ilk should really just be referred to as the third action) is where my attention waned and the film went off the rails in a bad way. For an hour Chronicle was a drama about teenagers who happened to have superpowers, whereas in these last twenty minutes it became a movie about superpowers, which happened to have teenagers. The film lost its identity and it seemed like something shoehorned in by studio executives worried about a lack of explosions. In doing so well with character arcs for Andrew and Matt, it was also disappointing to see the way in which the character of Steve, never really developed overtly or covertly beyond his initial clichéd stereotype of being “the popular kid”
A minor criticism of the film also highlights another compliment. While the film has a surprising intellect with its referencing of philosophers in a non pretentious manner, it was at times rather blatant and on the nose. When three characters are entering a hole to investigate a mysterious, strange, scary noise, it is unlikely one of them would turn around and say, “Hey, have you heard of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?” Perhaps a line that seems less subtle if you know the allegory. A major criticism of the film however is its very final scene. Without spoiling anything, it ties bows on the story that need not be tied and paves roads for sequels that need not be paved. It again felt like a studio inclusion that was out of touch with the rest of the piece.
Overall Chronicle is the film that fans of the found footage shooting style and the teen and superhero genres have been waiting for. It is a debut feature, which demonstrates large potential for its scribe, director and cast, and I do not anticipate another directorial debut this strong coming out in 2012. It is a very good film prevented from greatness by a third act and subplot, which don’t connect to the rest of the film as much as they could do. In a year, which will be dominated by the superheroes (The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises) Chronicle with its low budget and cast of unknowns, has set the bar for the big boys.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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