Review: Chronicle (2012)

Director: Josh Trank

****

Giving gimmicks a new lease of life is not an easy thing to pull off. The ‘found footage’ trend, successfully exploited in the likes of The Blair Witch Project and [REC], seems to have been used exclusively for the benefit of horror. Chronicle takes the camera out of the haunted house and puts it in the hands of teenagers with superpowers. Brace yourselves; moody teenagers are already destructive enough without the aid of telekinesis.

The golden rule of found footage flicks is to leave as much unexplained as possible. When three teenage boys investigate a strange crater that has suddenly appeared in the ground, we know nothing about how it came to be, or about the strange glowing rock inside the crater that bestows telekinetic powers on Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan). We don’t need to know; if the characters can’t explain why they can suddenly move objects with their minds, why should we? We can wonder what we’d do with superpowers, but it’s not all that likely we’d put on capes and become superheroes. Indeed, Chronicle is best described as a superhero movie, but without much heroism. Andrew is the one with the movie camera, initially bought to chart his everyday life as an awkward and ostracized teen with a miserable home life (Dad’s a drunk and Mom’s got cancer). Chronicle doesn’t sugar-coat anything; the new powers don’t immediately improve these guys’ lives. Initially, pranks are pulled and experiences are had, but superpowers can’t work against inevitability.

It’s this sense of tragic inevitability that elevate Chronicle from a gimmick to a film of note. The intimacy of Andrew’s handheld camera allows us to share in the guys’ highs as they try out their powers, and makes the inevitable comedown all the more poignant. All three leads are very likable; DeHaan is particularly good, making us believe in both his super powers and his tragedy. Chronicle is the debut feature of director Josh Trank, and he does an excellent job of capturing both action and emotion. He doesn’t limit himself to just Andrew’s camera’s POV; security cameras and mobile phones play a particular role in the final act, as the boys’ powers threaten their lives and their hometown of Seattle. Both Trank and screenwriter Max ‘son of John’ Landis keep the focus on the boys, even when things start exploding all around them.

Ultimately, Chronicle isn’t the shake-up of the superhero genre it purports to be; it’s a different take on it, and a more human take at that. For all the hype superhero movies get, we rarely see the effects such superpowers would have on a typical person. For people with the ability to do almost anything, we can’t help but find ourselves pitying the heroes of Chronicle.

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