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Chronicle (2012)

May 14, 2012

 

written by: Max Landis

produced by: John Davis and Adam Schroeder

directed by: Josh Trank

rating: PG-13 (for intense action and violence, thematic material, sexual content and teen drinking)

runtime: 83 min. 

U.S. release date: February 3, 2012

DVD/Blu-ray release date: May 15, 2012

 

There will be a time when the found-footage fad will weasel its way into each and every genre of film. As long as money is brought in, it’s inevitable. Filmmakers will undoubtedly figure out a way to use this approach to the Western and Victorian era genres. The approach has primarily been dominated by horror and mystery flicks, usually populated by white people. I’ve already shared my feelings on this subgenre, but with “Chronicle” taking it into the superhero realm (well, superpowers, technically), I may have to rethink the possibilities of the phenomenon. Instead of using a pseudo-documentary feel or exuding a gimmicky vibe, the film actually has an inventive delivery with some creative filmmaking decisions that are quite clever. It helps that the actors here are an improvement on the ones we usually see in found footage films and that we’re given much more characterization to get invested in.

The story is set in and around Seattle, Washington and focuses on a trio of teenage boys that stumble upon an alien object buried underground near a remote rave party. All of them are knocked out by the encounter and when they regain consciousness they realize they all have special abilities, like flight, and super strength, but mainly telekinesis (if you’re not a geek, they can move things with their mind). How such an extraordinary event effects each of them is dependent on who these teens are and where they’re at in life.

 

 

Awkward high school senior, Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is fed up with his lonely and miserable existence of eating lunch alone and getting picked on by bullies. He has decided to chronicle every minute of his life with a video camera. That means every violent outburst by his abusive father (Michael Kelly) and the sad moments with his ill mother (Bo Peterson) will be captured. Through his lens, we witness what he sees and goes through – be it home or school – the good, but mostly the bad. It’s actually quite fitting to see a teen document their every waking hour in some form, those pivotal years are an incubator for narcissism.

His cousin, Matt (Alex Russell) tries to look out for Andrew and help him, but Andrew isn’t very trusting. Matt is handsome and girls like him, how could he understand? Even more popular is his friend, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), a charismatic leader and candidate for class president, liked by everyone. Unlike Andrew, life is going pretty well for these two, so these newfound powers are an invigorating blast for them – instead of eventually fueling resentment and rage like it does Andrew.

Initially, all three of them are enjoying practicing and testing out their powers – and who wouldn’t? Regardless of age, this would be the case for anyone. It’s here that the movie truly succeeds. To see these teens hone their abilities out in public as pranks is quite funny. They freak kids out in a toy store by floating items down aisles and completely move a woman’s parked vehicle to a different spot while she’s in a store. It’s slightly cruel as teen hijinks often are(evoking reality in that respect), but still amusing nevertheless. It’s a calm before the storm that is brewing inside of Andrew.

 

 

Out of the three of them, Andrew is the best at manipulating his powers, yet that’s not such a good thing. He’s also the most emotionally unstable, which proves to be a lethal combination when he almost kills a crazy driver one night. It wasn’t necessarily a purposeful move on Andrew’s part, but Matt’s shock at his cousin’s seemingly malicious actions, push Andrew down a dark path that is already paved. From here on out, Andrew has decided to give in to his dark side and lash back at anyone who’s ever done him wrong. The powers that were once kept secret are now outed by Andrew’s destructive antics, leave Matt and Steve to stop him from harming himself and others – or at least try to.

With “Chronicle”, director Josh Trank is giving us what is (hopefully) the closest live-action adaptation of “Akira”, something that no one (except the big studios) wants to see happen. The comparison to that cult anime classic is inevitable for anyone who’s seen it, especially with the last act of  “Chronicle” in mind, but there’s no doubt that this is an impressive directorial debut for Trank. Having previously worked as an editor and 2nd Unit director on 2009’s “Big Fan”, Trank sets out to utilize every possible tool at his disposal here to keep the “red light” going during every moment of the film. Although there are some creative and convenient uses of  Andrew’s camera, like how the teen levitates the camera above him with his mind, giving Trank an excuse to use steadicams or cranes – yet some flaws in the film’s documentary style left me scratching my head.

The mistakes often made in these found footage films is the focus on the “footage” over the “found”. Since the idea is that the audience is discovering something, then the question of how we found this footage should be answered. In “Cloverfield” we stumbled upon top-secret military footage detailing the events of a monster invading and “Paranormal Activity” we’re basically watching surveillance footage, which was collected by the police. This makes following the story quite plausible, giving it a logical feel. At first, “Chronicle” is clever in the way it films the footage, but the way it’s captured is suspect when the film uses cell phone footage, security cameras, and news reports, as a way of documenting the story. As much as I was caught up in it, I couldn’t help but wonder who had compiled all this footage and how it was found.

 

 

That may be an oversight on the part of writer Max Landis (son of director, John Landis), but to his credit, his believable teen characterization and ambitious concepts maintain the audience’s attention throughout the entire movie. It’s a script that is well-executed by Trank, who clearly has fun with all the superpowered activity, which is grounded by accurate depictions of teen-speak and compelling melodramatic angst. However, the thin subplot involving Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), a forced love interest for Matt, feels way too forced. She’s even an HD nut, who’s footage is conveniently included into the rest of the “Chronicle” footage. Not really sure how that happened.

The performances here are solid, with Russell and Jordan easy to like as Matt and Steve, and DeHaan fully-committed as an unpredictable Andrew, navigating from moping to maniacal. But the movie is really all about seeing these powers in a real-world setting and that’s where it succeeds the most. Whatever Trank chooses to do next (he’s been offered a “Fantastic Four” reboot or a Spider-Man spinoff, focusing on the villain “Venom”), it will definitely be something to see.

There’s no denying that this movie had the geek in me applauding. Back in my teen years I would have conversations with my friends about how cool it would be to fly or what we would do with superpowers. Granted, we would be superheroes of course and what “Chronicle” does is show us what would happen if the opposite happened – if a tormented geek played god.

 

RATING: ***

 

 

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