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Chronicle Review

John’s Rating: 7.5/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 8.2/10
(5 reviews total)

With found-footage movies cleaning up at the box office over quite an extended period of time now, it seems inevitable that they’d move past their horror roots and into other genres. Chronicle is the found-footage superhero movie, and it’s one of the most unique movie-going experiences in years. Those expecting a low-budget Spider-Man will be disappointed, though some of the themes are the same. (The tagline for Chronicle could have easily been “With great power comes great responsibility.”). Chronicle looks and plays out more like District 9 instead.

The three principals are loner Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and the school’s golden boy, Steve (Michael B. Jordan). Although they have little in common, they’re brought together suddenly when, while at a party, they find a strange hole in the middle of a field. Steve, always the adventurer, jumps down, followed by Matt, then Alex (whose handheld camcorder serves as our window into this world). What happens down there is unclear (the camera doesn’t exactly agree with the giant glowing blue and red crystal they find), but the end result is what’s truly mind-boggling: Andrew, Matt, and Steve have superpowers.

They’re able to move objects telekinetically, though at first, even the slightest use of their powers results in a massive nosebleed. But they soon deduce that they need to condition their powers. So they start small—legos, baseballs, Andrew’s camera. Soon, however, they’re moving cars and flying, but the more powerful they become, the more fractured their new group is. Steve and Matt simply want to use their powers to make sure they’ve got it good at school, and for a while, Andrew seems content with finally being popular. But he’s a very troubled young man, and starts to think of himself as some kind of evolutionary marvel. “The apex predator” he starts calling himself, and cool tricks and sight gags aren’t enough to satisfy his appetite for power.

Yes, this is technically an origin story, but the similarities between Chronicle and the superhero films you’re thinking of end there. This doesn’t play out in any of the ways to which we’ve become accustomed. The conflict that arises is a direct result of these three, not some dastardly evildoer, and so there never really comes a time that they need to harness their powers for the greater good.

Chronicle covers a lot over a scant 80-minute running time. It needs to create believable character arcs for all three individuals that cover some very extreme facets of their personalities. To accomplish this, director Josh Trank opts for a “you are there” style of filmmaking—found footage. It’s not for everyone, and it’s hard to argue that it isn’t played out at least a little, but in this case it undeniably elevates the material. It’s hard to wrap your head around the concept at first, and Trank is forced to cheat on occasion, though his cheats are always explained and sometimes quite clever (especially during the film’s climax). Still, the hand-held camerawork lends a great deal of intimacy to the film. You’ll really connect with the characters because we’re along for the ride with them.


All three actors are professionals, though they are far from household names. Michael B. Jordan is perhaps the most recognizable face (he was on Friday Night Lights for a number of years). He also gives the film’s most appealing performance. Steve is clearly destined for greatness, and Jordan, a real natural on screen, imbues him with humanity that most popular kids in high school lack. The film’s other leads are less successful, but far from inadequate. Alex Russell has the most thankless role of the main trio, only because Matt never feels like a clearly defined character. To play Andrew, meanwhile, Dane DeHaan has to go through a significant transformation. For the most part, he’s up to the task, though there are times when you can see him really stretching.

Chronicle is an intense film, especially during the final action scene, which is well-staged, but probably goes on a little too long. Still, it’s a breathless, bloody sequence that will make or break your opinion of the film. There will be some who are turned off by the intensity of the camerawork; others will think the film took to many shortcuts to get to this point. For me, Chronicle works. It’s much better than its Super Bowl weekend release would typically signify, but it’s also a far more difficult watch than you’d ever expect. Rating: 7.5/10

Simon thought: “Considering the quality of many recent “found footage” movies, even loosely associating that filmmaking style with Chronicle seems hugely unfair. Yes, director Josh Trank uses handheld cameras to shoot his movie, but it features few of the hallmarks of the genre, provides clever reasons for why cameras are present and how these teens are filmed – that is before mostly throwing the gimmick out the window at the climax. Chronicle has also been labelled as a superhero film, but that too is a misnomer even if it does wind up in that vein. This sci-fi offering is instead a cautionary tale about the influence of power, an exploration of teen angst and the hardships of growing up and first and foremost a gripping and tragic descent into the melancholy. Chronicle went nowhere I expected it to go and with strong performances and impressive low-budget special effects to support the weighty story arc, it becomes more than just a product of its more simplistic inspirations.” Rating: 9/10

Steven thought: “Of all the many riffs on the superhero genre, Chronicle provides the most genuine take, and it’s not just about using handheld cameras. At just 26 years old, Landis and Trank understand today’s tens better than anyone making wid-release Hollywood movies right now. The trio at this film’s center gets it too, and it results in some believable characters who react to developing telekinetic powers in ways you’d expect of teens: shenanigans and showing off. The result is much more of an exploration of the teenage psyche and the catalyst superpowers would add to that already dangerous hormone rage. The found footage element is both a strength and weakness: good in showing intimate character moments, bad in distracting us with the “how” we see and not “what.” Then the climax blows the whole door off its hinges, but even still, Chronicle is a striking and emotional ride start to finish.”  Rating: 7.5/10

Max thought: “Damn if that was unexpected. Lean, a touch mean and dripping with its own style, Chronicle is a much-needed shot in the arm for the found-footage genre. It only helps that the three leads are likable, believable and funny, all of which wouldn’t be possible without the better-than-it-should-have-been script from Max Landis. It takes a bit to take off (no pun), but Chronicle wastes little time in establishing the rules of the game for our heroes, allowing them and the audience to have a touch of fun before things go bats**t crazy (in a good way). Conventional explanations as to why a camera is always rolling are handled intelligently, we get just enough as to how the guys’ powers work without getting an unnecessary origin and the smack-down in the third act is the kind of fight 9-year-old kids dream of having in their respective backyards. It’s sharp, direct and with little-to-no wasted time. A great movie-going time.” Rating: 9/10

Sam thought: “With a delightful exuberance sorely missing from most name-brand comic book movies, Max Landis plays out one of the ultimate teenage geek fantasies, where being able to control things with your mind allows any outcast, normal or class president to blast through physical and social limits and become whoever they want to be. That the physics-defying antics don’t get in the way of strong character work while operating within the found-footage framing style is commendable. Psychic powers alone provide an ingenious excuse to let the camera move in a more cinematic fashion, but Landis is among the first to realize that these days everything is filmed, so a flashy climax in surveillance-heavy downtown Seattle allows for some creative new angles. Although said climax is by the numbers compared to the looser build-up, and the handheld conceit doesn’t always make total sense in the moment, Chronicle takes two exhausted genres and proves they still have legs. Rating: 8/10

 

Rating
8.2

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