Director: Josh Trank
Writer: Max Landis
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly
Release date: February 3rd, 2012
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 83 minutes
Best part: The comedic hijinks.
Worst part: The tonal shifts.
With the current popularity of ‘found footage’ with box office hits such as Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity franchise, Chronicle should be seen as an original and natural progression for the genre. This documentation of the darker side of the super-human character cleverly identifies many connections to the inner workings of the teenage psyche.
Told via home video camera, we follow Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a moody and shy high schooler struggling to fit in. Beaten by his drunken dad Richard (Michael Kelly) and looking after his dying mother at home, his salvation is in his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), the most popular guy in school who is somewhat reluctant to communicate with Andrew. Their discovery of an alien specimen with their friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) leads to strong changes in their evolutionary charts. Their development of telekinetic powers makes Andrew the most popular guy in school due to his incredible manipulation of objects. However, his fall from popularity back down to the bottom of the high school spectrum leads Andrew to unleash his powers on others, drawing out his disturbing darker side.
The three teenage leads are very identifiable. Their views on pranks, high school popularity, and girls relate to the world of the crass teenager in a very realistic way. Russell and Jordan are very likeable as Matt and Steve respectively. Matt’s story of becoming a better person, while trying to impress cute video blogger Casey by quoting poetry, defines his changing views of humanity while adapting to his super humanity. The major draw to Chronicle is both Andrew’s descent into the dark and Dehaan’s performance itself. His portrayal of this emotionally scarred yet sympathetic character fixated on the destruction of the dark side of humanity is shockingly disturbing. Scenes depicting Andrew explaining his method of pulling out teeth and his description of the ‘apex predator to man’ define Dehaan’s creepy and saddening performance as instantly captivating. Despite the enigmatic performances and chemistry between the three leads, Andrews family life could have been focused on to greater degree. The plot surrounding his kind, dying mother and highly abusive dad feel forced into this film compared to the delicate story of personal torment surrounding Andrew in high school and his friends trying desperately to help him. While Casey is a wasted character only used to bring another camera angle into important scenes. First time director Josh Trank depicts his view of superhuman teenage angst as an allegory for puberty. Despite their bodies changing in very different ways to normal, the training and control of their abilities make these characters identifiable.
“Yes, it was the black guy this time.” (Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), Chronicle).
The rules they set down after a freak accident describe their realistic view of great power coming with greater responsibility. Despite their strict rules, the moments of comedy, based on their fascination with their unbelievable powers, hit on every level. Tricking people around them using their telekinesis, particularly when Steve starts up a leaf blower to lift up a Girl’s skirt, becomes instantly funnier than it already was due to the reactions and witty quips by the three boys. This very unique take on the superhero genre is defined by its cinematography. Chronicle‘s use of handheld camera footage, to capture every second of their developing stories, makes it an intelligent and provocative thriller. Switching camera angles from different handheld sources, manipulation with the single camera by Andrew’s powers and scenes of exhilarating tracking shots, documenting the boys’ newly discovered flying abilities, are a thrill to watch. The first person view of their flight through the clouds is completely immersive, making the viewer feel they’re travelling faster than a speeding bullet. While the special effects are used to clever effect in many scenes, at points its use becomes too obvious. This is a situation where less would have been more as the glaringly fake effects and over the top final battle, complete with an over abundance of camera angles based on the number handheld sources, feel out of place with the rest of the film’s clever almost entirely single camera style.
In this ultra-slick era of remakes, reboots, and irritating trends, Hollywood has finally delivered its first truly phenomenal found-footage flick. Fitting its enjoyable lead performers into its tiny lens, Chronicle is sky high entertainment.