Review: Chronicle

There’s something wrong with Andrew.

Showing no signs of abating, the found-footage trend continues to find new ways to stay alive whether it’s ludicrously taking it the concept to the moon (Apollo 18), or dressing as a horror (The Devil Inside). Chronicle looks to apply the same style – this time to the superhero genre – but the concept of found-footage in this genre seems bogus.

That’s not to say that Chronicle doesn’t attempt to expand the found-footage concept but considering it’s going for a real world vibe, it struggles to retain a sense of believability in its latter half. Chronicle starts off with social outcast Andrew (Dane Dehaan) buying a camcorder to record his life. Bullied at school and at home by his father (Michael Kelly), his home life is compounded by his mother’s severe illness.

In an attempt to bring him out of his shell, Matt, his cousin and only friend (Alex Russell), take him to a warehouse party where they run into popular high school student Steve (Michael B Jordan). They leave the party, find a cave in the woods and come across a weird crystal object; the cave starts collapse – fade to black.

They wake up with abilities that allow them manipulate their surroundings with their mind. Like most superhero origin stories they find out that their powers can be used for good as well as bad.

There’s a lot to like about Chronicle. While the found footage concept stretches plausibility (who edited this footage together?), the documentary style and low key setting differentiate it from other, more exuberant superhero flicks. It feels as real as the concept allows it to be, and director Josh Trank does a good job meshing it with a recognisable reality. Thankfully he finds ways of avoiding the shaky cam aesthetic, opting for a camera suspended by Dehaan’s Andrew that glides gracefully across the room.

The characters are well defined if a little clichéd: Andrew is emotionally stiff, pushing others away; Matt is the pretentious intellectual and Steve is the popular, charismatic type. Put them together and they make for an interesting combination, rubbing off on each other and forming a close bond. It’s when the shit hits the fan that Chronicle falters.

Chronicle’s faults stem from just how unsubtle and predictable the narrative and its characters are. It’s exemplified in Andrew’s dad: an alcoholic who verbally and physically assaulting him on a consistent basis. Trank and screenwiter Max Landis are very unsubtle going big and broad (perhaps purposefully so). As a result it becomes rather obvious which direction the story and the characters are going in. Andrew’s brittle shoulders can’t support the misery inflicted upon him and he hits the self-destruct button, unleashing a tidal wave of anger.

Technically the film has both good and bad moments with some stunning effects mixed in with some shabby ones. The final confrontation has echoes of Akira but the staging of it doesn’t always engage; unless, that is, you like seeing characters being punched through a building repeatedly. It’s at this juncture where the found-footage novelty starts to fall apart with Trank struggling to find exciting angles and being able to retain the intimacy present in the film’s first half.

Still, Chronicle is a more than decent superhero film, one that’s a) original (ish); b) inventive and c) fresh enough until its third act. After Haywire and The Grey, the early months of the year keep rolling with surprisingly good films.

7/10

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Posted on 24/02/2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Definitely stretched the whole found footage thing a bit too far. The girl video blogger filming when the guy character came to the door was crazy. But really liked the use of so many different cameras for the big final showdown. Thought it was brilliant for the budget! Great review, I’d probably give it 8 at a push.

    • I thought it was interesting in some ways how it used different cameras (like the one where they come crashing through the store) but at the same time I thought it tried to splice too many sources that it made that last sequence a bit choppy. Liked the film quite a bit.

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