Directed by Josh Trank
As far as debut feature films go, director Josh Trank has set the bar incredibly high with his efforts on Chronicle, which crash lands in theaters this weekend like a breath of fresh air that should hopefully silence many of the found footage naysayers out there who argue that there’s nothing compelling about the technique as a storytelling device. In fact, Chronicle somehow manages to defy the odds while blending together two very basic and well-worn cinematic concepts (superhero and found footage flicks) with exhilarating and often jaw-dropping results.
In Chronicle we meet social outcast Andrew Detmer (DeHaan), who is dealing with a whole mess of problems- he’s regularly bullied at high school, his mother is dying and Andrew’s abusive alcoholic father (Kelly) can’t afford the medical bills so he takes his frustrations out on his son during violent outbursts. The only way Andrew can deal with the pain is by filming his whole life with a new camera, thereby detaching himself from the rest of the world while he hides behind the lens.
One night at a random house party, our sullen protagonist’s life changes forever when he, his cousin Matt (Russell) and social butterfly and aspiring politician Steve (Jordan) discover a mysterious hole in the ground and go inside for a closer look; and as you can imagine, that’s when Chronicle really takes off.
From there on out the movie uses the universal superhero template to tell Andrew’s story; we see how the awkward shy kid that life usually takes a dump on comes to discover that he may possibly be the most powerful being in the world, and through his new kinship with Matt and Steve, it looks like poor Andrew might just be able to find some happiness after all. We see the three friends explore their powers through a series of hilarious tests (dancing teddy bears in toy stores, moving parked cars at the mall, flying around in the clouds and dodging planes) but as the three young men’s powers grow stronger, not everything goes to plan, and like Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Soon enough, the trio of friends begin to struggle with just how far they should take their newfound powers, and as a rift starts to build among them, Chronicle takes some dark turns in the third act, eventually building to a stunning and deadly showdown between good and evil. And while the set-up of Chronicle‘s final fight sequence may seem rather derivative if you’ve ever seen a superhero movie in your life, Trank smartly plays on that and throws viewers into some terrifying camera perspectives, which heightens everything beyond anything you’ve ever experienced from a “final showdown” between hero and supervillain ever before.
With Chronicle telling the story from Andrew’s camera’s perspective for the most part, it makes the found footage aspect of the movie work, and when you add special abilities into the mix, that allows for a lot more camera freedom that you don’t often see in this subgenre. We also get a lot of the third act of Chronicle shown to us through various other formats, including security camera footage, spectators’ phones, news footage and aerial footage from police choppers, which also makes the flick unique. By opening up the footage like that, director Trank is distancing himself from the old “mysterious last recordings” shenanigans that a lot of other movies tend to rely on. And intentional or not, it seems like Trank and screenwriter Max Landis are also making their commentary on technology’s intrusion into society, which I felt was rather clever as well.
At a perfect running time of 83 minutes, Chronicle manages to work in a lot of plot without ever getting too muddled and is anchored by incredible performances all around. Generally, younger actors never seem to resonate with me these days, but DeHaan, Russell and Jordan are all outstanding in the film and have a natural chemistry together. Kelly is downright scary as Andrew’s bitter and angry drunk of a father, and as a love interest for Matt, Hinshaw’s performance as Casey left a surprisingly strong impression on me even if her screentime is limited in the flick.
For those of you out there who have given up on found footage or superhero movies, seeing Chronicle should restore your faith in both subgenres as Trank and his debut film both defy the odds here by giving audiences an experience unlike anything in recent years. There will be countless genre movies released this year, but there’s no doubt in my mind that few will be as entertaining, charming, clever and thrilling as Chronicle; it’s my favorite original film in theaters since last year’s Attack the Block.
Chronicle is not to be missed.
4 1/2 out of 5