Review: Chronicle

jason stives reviews the new “found footage” sci-fi film…

For many, the found footage niche in 21st century cinema flared out over a series of poorly executed horror films and knock around sci-fi creature features. While well-suited in creating an atmospheric style never before tested in movies, it went from being believable to clearly forgettable by always marketing itself as a found footage film. When you feel there isn’t much breath left in the genre then comes Chronicle, a film that is a found footage as it happens and one that tells a far more precise story than most of its one note counter parts. With some very convincing acting and a lush script that explores the ideas of power over will, it’s one the most traditional superhero films without calling itself one.

In many ways there is a similar quality in Chronicle that stems from the intentions that George Lucas pushed on the public in his Star Wars films — how great power can ultimately bring out a darkside in the most simple person. This isn’t a comic book film, this a story of relationships and personal will with super powers in them. Set in Seattle, Chronicle, well, chronicles the lives of three high school teenagers and how their lives change after one strange encounter. Oh, and of one them happens to have a camera with him at all times. After attending a rave out in the middle of the Washington wilderness they come across a hole in the ground which when investigated contains a glowing crystal like formation. Its power is so strong that it effects even the camera that is videotaping it and gives off some sort of strange radiation glow that elicits special powers to these three. Each teen has something to add to the story but the bulk of interest lies in the man behind the camera, a loner named Andrew.

Dane Deehan, looking too much like a runty Leo Dicaprio, is Andrew Detmer, a high school outcast dealing with the pains of adolescence and the scars of a dysfunctional family. There is no denying it (mainly because we see it through his camcorder eyes) that Andrew’s life is shitty stemming from school bullying, an abusive alcoholic father, and a mother dying painfully from cancer. The only one to really hone in some craft to his new found capabilities, Andrew much like Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) starts out by simply enjoying the labor of love that comes with these telekinetic powers. From a viewer’s stand point he lives out every young juvenile’s fantasy, exacting revenge of his enemies and even using his powers to impress his peers in a high school talent show. But his ever insistent sense of neuroticism eventually blinds him from his actions. What transpire is bleak, a bit disturbing, and ultimately a tragic example of not knowing when to stop and allowing power to get out of hand.

In a way it’s the perfect way to showcase the dark side of great power and the ability to do unbelievable things. It’s something that is dealt with between Andrew, Matt, and Steven who cover the three levels that such power can take someone to. Andrew clearly represents the bad that can come of such abilities where as Steven, who parades about school campaigning for class President is someone who believes he can help others with his own non-super power capabilities. This is some necessary character development and while Andrew clearly is our focal point, Steven is given enough of a story for us to know him well enough. The only one who suffers a bit in development until the very end is Matt, who gets sidelined with a love story involving a bag girl who also has a video camera (for her blog of course). It’s more or less a reason to get another camera in the picture but it none the less does nothing for a character that is uncertain of what his purpose is in life. Matt says, off hand, how he actually cares for his cousin but never shows it compared to others. It puts into perspective how we value friendship and the people who are clearly there to help those who seem hopeless.

In a way it’s a reaction to the triumph of man and what lies in destiny and the relationships you make in life. This stems in part back to a conversation Andrew has with his cousin Matt, who discusses the philosophical notion of man never actually being in control of his life and is ultimately weak willed. He counters act this with every action he makes — good and ultimately bad. This is where some may feel the use of the boys’ special powers as showing no value but in reality it’s the immediate reaction one would assume a teen would do in a similar situation. The overall outcome of using these powers is what differs this film from most super hero based films. The downward spiral of chaos and tragedy that ultimately results from the abuse of their powers is executed well and director Josh Trank (Big Fan) must be given much credit to that.

Opting to avoid the shaky camera kerfuffle that is associated with these kind of films, a sense of reality is tacked on through some dazzling special effects that, even through what’s suppose to be the eyes of a camcorder , seem almost too real to comprehend. In an awe-inspiring scene where the boys first take flight, they casually toss a football across the sky while narrowly missing an oncoming airplane. It is shot with such precision and care that you almost think it’s a skydiving video. It is that kind of care that really sets the film apart in its climax where we switch from Andrew’s camcorder to numerous video devices to capture the film’s last moments. Had this been shot with the assumption that Andrew is still holding his camera the action packed finale would have seen one dimensional but by capturing it from a variety of sources mainly iPhones, security cameras, and police dashboard cameras, all the necessary aspects of the action is captured with much poise. Josh Trank keeps a keen eye on the tech centric world we live in and creates a compelling series of sequences that is cleverly caught on film and just as riveting as an action film with a more proper cinematography.

Chronicle is by no means a call to arms in the revitalization of an already sinking ship, but it might be the definitive example of its potential. What could easily be a run of the mill series of events seeped into a straight to DVD film ultimately has a narrative that goes deeper than most comic book characters are willing to go. With great pace, solid acting work and a wonderful blend of thrills and excitement to counter balance its gorilla style production, Chronicle can lay the found footage genre to rest with a tremendous end point.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (outstanding)

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