Chronicle’s trailer appealed to the comic book geek inside of me. Not only did it have “superheroes” but it was shot in the found-footage format. Found-footage is a style that I find effective in certain genres and I was curious to see how it worked in this context. Even with all my love for the found-footage films, I am beginning to feel a bit exhausted; I have seen Grave Encounters, Atrocious, Paranormal Activity 3, and Undocumented in less than half a year and my enthusiasm for the sub-genre has lessened. Chronicle pushed aside that fatigue for me though, the idea was fresh and I am baffled that no one has executed this premise sooner. Cloverfield mixed with X-Men is an altogether appetizing notion, but at the end of my viewing, I felt that maybe the Cloverfield part could have been removed. Chronicle creates some astounding scenes but it stumbles a few too many times with its use of found-footage.
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a high school senior, decides that he wants to record his day-to-day activities to create a connection with the world. Andrew is an outcast and is harassed by many of the other kids in school; his father is an abusive alcoholic and part of the reason for Andrew’s filming is to have evidence of his father’s violent behavior. To make Andrew’s life even more difficult, his mother is dying and her medical bills are putting the family into financial debt. Andrew is close with his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell) who drives him to and from school every day. Matt is Andrew’s only friend, in his class and he loves to spit out philosophical lines any chance he gets. Matt takes Andrew to a barn-party one night and after getting into an altercation, Andrew stays outside on the lawn. A friend of Matts comes to retrieve Andrew, a class president-hopeful by the name of Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). Steve says that Matt and he have found something that needs recording and Andrew reluctantly follows him into the woods. Matt, Andrew, and Steve huddle around a hole in the ground that is sending out strange sounds. They go down the hole to find a glowing artifact/organism that reaches out to them. After encountering this alien-thing, the trio becomes empowered with the ability to use telepathy, and they learn how to use it more efficiently as the film progresses. But things go wrong as Andrew falls down the path of destruction and the other two have to find out how to stop him.
Director, Josh Trank has got a story going for him and the character’s diversity in personality allow for some interesting dynamics. These three are not all outcasts (to an extent), Andrew is the only one who truly has issues when it comes to dealing with people but Matt and Steve are popular in their own right. Max Landis, the son of John Landis, has written three unique and believable characters. Even if the dialogue is not as good as it could be, the actions that these three make are interesting and it adds something to the superhero genre. The downfall of Andrew, which you could surmise from the trailer, is justifiable and his entrance into the world of “villainy” is one of the better stories in recent fiction. Landis did not pull any punches; the film opens with Andrew’s drunken father beating on Andrew’s bedroom door, yelling for him to open it. We see a dying woman who wants for her son to be strong and we witness people shove Andrew to the lowest point that anyone can get to. As comical as the trailer makes Chronicle out to be, there are thematic qualities that are quite heavy, but it’s balanced well.
Chronicle was made for fifteen million dollars which makes it one of the most expensive found footage films to date. The effects, while well done in many parts, are very noticeable. Even with such a high budget for a found-footage film, it’s still a low budget film compared to everything else released in the superhero genre. At one point in the film, the three characters learn to fly and it’s not very well done. I squirmed a bit at how ineffective the effects were and felt removed from the experience. There were not enough of these moments though to ruin my time and there are some clever uses of the kid’s powers throughout the runtime. After winning in a school talent show, thanks to the main character’s telepathy, they are invited to a party. Andrew, who is now become respected, is invited to a game of beer pong. Of course, with having his powers, he destroys the other team(s). As you see in the trailer, Matt, Andrew, and Steve go to a mall and mess with a plethora of individuals there. This comic relief is much needed in a film that likes to go to some very dark places. These timid uses of effects were a way to save the big guns for the end. The last fifteen minutes takes place in downtown Seattle and features some of the best action scenes I have seen in awhile; it has cars being thrown like projectiles, cops being lifted in the air, and buildings becoming decimated. My mouth fell open and I was quivering with geek-delight by the spectacle I was witnessing. Even if the movie has rubbed you the wrong way, you have to stick it out for the end. I promise that it will amaze you.
My only qualm (aside from the at times, lackluster effects) that I have with Chronicle has really kept me from absolutely loving the film. Josh Trank really tried to create something special with the found-footage style but I think it was a poor choice. It starts off well enough but as the film becomes bigger in scope and as the kids learn more powerful moves, the found footage feels like it’s not keeping up with everything else. I can understand that there were budgetary reasons to making this found-footage, but this is not a film that benefited from characters dragging cameras everywhere. Andrew eventually learns how to make the camera levitate around him, turning the shaky cam into something that feels closer to a “real film”. At this point, the whole idea of found footage just seems silly because it’s abandoned. Chronicle would have made a better film if it were not shot in the found-footage style because more could have been done with the story and it wouldn’t have felt so hampered.
Chronicle is an achievement on many levels but the found-footage style creates more of a hindrance than a benefit. I walked out of the theater feeling a bit torn over how I felt about my experience. I knew that I liked it but I didn’t know how far my love went for the film. After doing some thinking, I came to the conclusion that yes, while the found-footage style and the effects were unreliable at times, Chronicle delivered some great moments. I hope that Trank makes a sequel and one that abandons the hand-camera. Chronicle’s story makes this film a cut above the rest, even when it stumbles a bit.