Chronicle came out of the blue. Trailers weren’t interesting, it starred no one of interest, it was coming from a first time film director and there was little buzz leading up to its release. Then it started getting positive reviews from early screenings. It sat at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for a while and still holds an impressive score as the reviews flood in. Some are giving it perfect, or near perfect, scores and heralding it as a wholly unique take on the found footage/superhero genres. I wouldn’t go that far—there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before—but it’s nevertheless a polished film with the occasional insight into real world problems, even if they’re never properly explored.
The film begins with Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a high school teenager who deals with verbal and physical abuse from both his father at home and his fellow students at school. He lives under harsh conditions, has no friends, aside from his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), and his mother is dying from a crippling illness. Presumably due to these factors (but left somewhat vague, as most found footage movies tend to do), Andrew decides to film everything in his life. One night, after being forced to go to a party he doesn’t want to go to, he, Matt and popular kid Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find a hole in the ground. In the hole, they find a mysterious artifact that gives them superpowers. These powers are initially weak, but as they use them more and more, they grow and become stronger. They use them innocently enough at first, but things soon spiral out of control and Andrew begins to take matters into his own hands.
Chronicle’s strongest aspect is its portrayal of the three teenagers after they’ve discovered their powers because they do exactly as you would expect. They don’t just acknowledge the fact that they have these incredible abilities; they’re genuinely fascinated by them. They try to outdo each other in the spirit of male competition that all men seem to have wired into their DNA. They run around and use their powers to pull harmless pranks on people, laughing it up as they do. Andrew even uses them to gain some popularity in school by passing it off as magic and performing in front of the student body at the talent show. Popularity is still important to them and having stupid fun is at the top of their priority list. Despite the powers, these are teenagers through and through.
The problem is that no movie, especially one such as this, is going to maintain audience interest without some action and the road to that point is poorly developed. Those early moments set the stage for an angry, depressed teenager that is likely to snap, but that’s all they are: moments. At a short runtime of 84 minutes, Chronicle speeds through all that to get to its next stage and Andrew’s life makes a turnaround. He finally has friends, a sense of camaraderie he has longed for. Students genuinely like him and girls seem to be interested in him for the first time ever. An embarrassing event acts as the tipping point for his eventual evil ways, but the fact remains that you see more good things happen to him than bad. Chronicle acts as a commentary on parental abuse and school bullying, but it’s a meager offering at best and doesn’t go nearly in-depth enough.
If there’s one thing Chronicle does that’s different, it’s in its use of the found footage genre. It still succumbs to the usual pratfalls of the genre where characters needlessly grab the camera before doing anything and every important story point just so happens to be caught on film, but due to the characters’ ability to levitate objects, the main protagonist isn’t always stuck off-screen, heard only as a voice and rarely seen. Instead, he can position the camera to film him as he goes about his business. No cameraman necessary. This also allows for smoother camera movements, doing away with the nauseating shaky cam that constantly plagues these movies. It loses points near the big action climax where things are shown despite there not being a physical camera present, but on the whole, it does what it does and it does it well.
Chronicle is not great. It’s not the next blockbuster and, despite its cleverness, there are too many amateurish flaws to exclaim that new talent has arrived. It thinks it’s a lot deeper than it is and it loses its found footage illusion by the end, but it still works. There is a sense of realism in the personalities and behaviors of the characters, even if it tries to force in anger and conflict through contrivances. Some critics are overemphasizing this film’s quality, but one thing we can agree on is that it’s still worth seeing.
Chronicle receives 3.5/5