Some might say found footage films have run their course but Chronicle makes a strong defense that there’s still plenty of ground left to cover. From micro-budgets and kind of oddball storytelling to macabre or esoteric subject matter, these types of films are finally shaking off the label of “trend” and are being met with more acceptance than something like a Grindhouse film. But there’s more art to this style than just dusting off some old camera and shooting aimlessly (someone please tell young filmmakers that shaking the camera is not the only way to make something ‘realistic’). If a story is good a film can exist in any medium. Many times a film can fail because it struggles to keep momentum as it stretches “interesting concept” to “satisfying feature”. Safe to say Chronicle has learned what not to do and succeeds as both a story and a niche/genre film offering something new and exciting along the way.
Chronicle tells the story of three high school kids who happen upon an incredible discovery and then little by little gain/develop superpowers. From different backgrounds they soon find solace in each other as they become a tight knit group only able to share their secret with themselves. But as they each have different motivations behind their powers soon their wonderment and awe takes a turn as their bond and their morals are tested. The realize that with all their powers they still can’t keep things from getting out of control. Finding it tougher and tougher to keep a lid on their powers the trio clashes and struggles as one of the them embraces his darker side.
Whereas many superhero films would focus on the superpower, Chronicle gets us to see the players more clearly defined than their powers. In that sense you really feel a connection to the characters (Andrew, Matt and Steve), their personal lives and their struggles. Steve is the cool kid, the jock and everyone loves him but he’s still grounded. Matt and Andrew are cousins and as Matt is slightly rebellious he’s fine with keeping people at arms length. Andrew is the odd duck and he comes from a family torn apart by his mother’s terminal illness and an abusive alcoholic father. Beyond that he’s ridiculed and tormented by nearly everyone in his school, even his cousin thinks he’s strange. If not for the discovery the trio would never be in the same room together but their secret not only keeps them close, it causes them to bond making them similar to the male half of The Breakfast Club.
But this isn’t about teen angst and high school woes. Chronicle is a real trip as the trio’s discovery grants them with all the enviable powers comic fans have coveted for decades, starting with telekinesis. That’s where you’re going to get the most fun our of Chronicle even if the found footage route may appear geared to the MTV generation. But on that note, what better age group to thrust these powers upon? Andrew, Matt and Steve are right at that age where they’re not quite adults but still no longer kids. As they come to terms with entering the grown up world they still react and see the world through immature lenses. It’s evidenced by the small pranks they first attempt when developing their powers and we kind of grow with them. They don’t go from rookie to pro overnight and their transition isn’t forced or rushed. However this story can’t all be sunshine and superpowers can it? Heroes need villains and while good guys are cool, sometimes bad guys are even cooler…and stronger.
In the case of Andrew specifically he does become evil (if the trailers didn’t make that completely clear) but he really isn’t a bad guy. Fractured, he’s tormented both publicly and privately and in a way you really really empathize with him because of his plight. He turns it inward as he feels cloistered without any outlets or allies. Sure he can talk to and pal around with the Matt and Steve but they don’t understand him. He suffers all the things that as kids can send us over the edge. We can be kept in check only because we lack the power we wish we had to change things or fight back. In Andrew’s case, he’s given an inch and is able to stretch it to a mile. It’s with that you get the makings of and method behind a brooding villain, not just some punk kid who wants to hurt or rob for fun. In the tag-line for the movie, Chronicle asks “what are you capable of?” but it really asks us, “How far do you take it?” both morally and then storywise.
While Chronicle plays out almost ignoring a 3 act structure (as the first 2 origin story acts blend and are presented seamlessly) with the ground work laid, all signs point to a show down and director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis delivered a rousing 3rd act. It does suffer a bit from an under-budgeted and overly-ambitious composition but it is still effective. One thing is for sure, Chronicle doesn’t buck the trend but shows what else you can do with this so called “gimmick” style of film making. Also it’s refreshing to see “found footage” with footage that is low level HD quality because if this had that grainy/VHS quality like it was shot from a “camera tucked in a back pack” quality we’re so used to seeing it may have been more off-putting than enjoyable.
Sure the story is familiar but what Trank and Landis have crafted it is an almost epic origin story that is just plain fun, exciting and inventive. Chronicle‘s superhero story is brought down to human scale as it focuses on the human element which is the right direction for this story. We are given characters who make predictable character arcs but in a very swift 83 minute run-time (that’s with the credits) we are still allowed the chance to know and feel for them. Offering Chronicle just a bit more praise it a smart movie in that it ends without answering some of the questions posed. I won’t state them here but whether it was intentionally left out to make the story more mysterious or just omitted due to a limited budget we may never know. However while it doesn’t hint at or scream sequel it will leaving you wanting more films of this style and quality from Trank and Landis in the future.