CRONICLE is a combination of two overdone genres – superhero and found-footage (the style made famous by The Blair Witch Project) – brought to you by first-time feature film director Josh Trank. With a script written by Trank and Max Landis (son of Blues Brothers legend John Landis) the film was made on a budget of $US15 million – a mere handful in Hollywood terms.
All these elements have come together in a formula that has certainly generated a lot of internet-buzz in the weeks following its release, but is Chronicle worth the hype? Well, yes. Trank’s does found-footage style cinematography incredibly well, and the result is an engaging and authentic-seeming film.
High school outcast Andrew (Dane DeHaan) decides to start videotaping his life. His mother is slowly dying of cancer and his father is an abusive alcoholic. His only social companion at school is his cousin Matt (played by rising Australian star Alex Russell) who likes Andrew but finds his videotaping hobby a social repellent.
One night at a party, star quarterback Steve (Michael B. Jordan) persuades Andrew to record a strange, noise-emitting hole in the ground he and Matt have found in the woods. Their decent into the hole leads them to confront a strange phenomenon – a glowing which gives them the power to move things with their minds. As their powers become stronger, the boys develop a close friendship and use their abilities to play pranks.
The entire film is seen through Andrew’s camera, security footage and cameras operated by a few other characters. Even if you are not a fan of the found-footage genre, you will be surprised by the inventiveness of Josh Trank’s visual direction.
The film is shot exactly the way you would expect someone to record their daily life if they had just discovered superpowers. There are these jaw-dropping shots where we’re staring at Andrew through his camera as he levitates is above him across the bedroom. And if you like that style of original cinematography, you’ll get serious exhilaration out of the flying scenes where you feel like you’re sky high with the three buddies.
It’s this feeling of authenticity that makes Chronicle so great. The film ignores the elements of the typical superhero formula like saving the world, super villains and the overarching moral of responsibility and explores how a group of mischievous teenage boys would react to having superpowers in the real world.
But that’s not to say there aren’t lessons to be learnt. At first, the boys’ adventures look cool and fun, but egos eventually become overgrown and things quickly get out of control.
As Andrew’s inner turmoil – fuelled by his problems at home and school – starts to boil over, the story becomes tension-filled and leads to a mind blowing climax in the city that challenges the limit of the relatively meagre budget.
The found-footage style adds a pseudo-reality to the action sequences. Thanks to Trank’s direction and his and Landis’ writing, all of the footage ties together into a fast-paced, intelligent, action-filled and sometimes humourous and sexy narrative that explores dark, unexpected places.
Credit goes to Alex Russell, Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan, whose acting really brings to life the action, the comedy and their relationships. They’re the heart of this movie. Alex Russell handles an American accent with ease, which may open doors in Tinseltown for the young local.
Just when most superhero movies are becoming mutated with prequels and reboots, Chronicle has injected sharp originality into the game.