Film Review: Chronicle
What would you do if you and a couple of your friends suddenly acquired superpowers? Would you start your campaign against the many evils threatening our lifelong quest for a peaceful everyday existence? Or would you use it to freak out random people at the supermarket and kick everyone’s asses at the school talent competition? Be honest now.
That’s exactly the premise for Chronicle, a film combining two very popular contemporary cinema subgenres, the “found footage” and “superhero” genres, while attempting to put a fresh spin on both of them. And it’s a flying success.
Chronicle could easily become a victim of both genres, falling into the cliché-ridden conventions of both the superhero films and the home-video format. But it doesn’t. For the most part, at least.
Firstly, the story is led by a solid performance from relative newcomer Dane DeHaan, mostly known for roles on TV’s In Treatment and True Blood, who portrays the abused, troubled Andrew Detmer with dejected realism, both in the abusive environment of his home and the hostile cacophony of his high school peers.
He is then aided by Alex Russell’s Matt Garretty, Andrew’s cousin and reluctant friend, and Michael B. Jordan‘s Steve Montgomery, football quarterback and high school alpha male. None of them are dealing with particularly original or innovative characters and motivations, but they all manage to flesh them out into a believable, albeit odd, trio. DeHaan even manages to keep the audience’s sympathy through a borderline-cartoonish development in Andrew’s motivations.
Director Josh Trank does change the “found-footage” rules a little bit. Where the rule is generally to present the material as a recording from one camera only, while creating the impression of un-edited footage, Chronicle switches between cameras and viewpoints, often giving the viewer a more convenient angle or framing, maximaising the cinematic experience of each scene. Although there is certainly a tinge of social commentary in this approach (you’re always on camera, whether you’re lying in a hospital bed or floating above the Space Needle), and a bigger scope as a result, it does feel a bit like cheating at times, especially as the material is clearly and overtly edited for convenience. Looked at within the narrative world of the film, it’s presumably for better documentation of the events of the film, but the editing is too cinematic at times, especially in the film’s climactic, and undeniably thrilling, scene.
The best part of the film is viewed through the eyes (or camera lens) of Andrew, where he and his friends are discovering their powers, finding, and often exceeding their own limitations. The question of using those powers to help people, fight crimes or using them in any bigger social context is never even addressed among the friends, without a doubt a conscious decision. It makes us ask ourselves the “What would you do?”- question, and honestly so. Have we, in today’s society, become too self-obsessed to even raise the issue of the bigger context of the things we do? Can we afford to exert energy into helping others when we are constantly fighting with everyone around us for a place on the social ladder? A film that manages to raise these questions without preaching or forcing the issue deserves a hell of a lot of credit.
The thrills are genuinely exciting, the effects are convincing despite a reportedly limited budget of only $12 million, and after a relatively slow build-up (as so often happens in found-footage films) the final third of the film is a true hair-raiser.
Final Verdict: Chronicle is thrilling take on both the found footage and superhero film genres, featuring strong performances from an unknown cast. It does have minor shortcomings, like a clichéd third-act character twist and an almost too-polished editing job, leading to a less emotional impact than possible, but overall it’s necessary viewing for any fan of both superhero films and found footage movies.
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