Chronicle

Chronicle is a movie that artfully, creatively, and effectively uses the ‘found footage’ approach. It would be a much different, and much less enjoyable, film if it weren’t for this approach to filming. I loved this movie. Also, I really want to get this on DVD.

Here’s a preview (note: the preview includes footage not in the movie):

As always, some deets:

Released February 3, 2012

Written by Max Landis and Josh Trank

Directed by Josh Trank

Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, and Ashley Hinshaw

Rated: PG-13

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To begin, perhaps this reviewer is naive, but it seems like films that aim to depict high schoolers in an ‘accurate’ fashion unvaryingly portray them as drunk party-goers who have zero morals. They portray the entire high school culture this way. I feel like this can’t possibly be accurate in all cases. So first off, Chronicle portrays teens this way and that bothered me a little. 

Story

Chronicle begins with Andrew (DeHaan) setting up a video camera because he has decided to film things. He doesn’t really explain, but you come to realize that he wants to be noticed and he thinks maybe by filming the garbage that is his life, he might be able to change it. Much of the film is from the perspective of his camera.

This first scene shows us that Andrew’s life truly is crap: his father is an abusive drunk and his mother is on hospice but is dying. Plus, her medication is astronomically expensive.

Next we meet Matt (Russell), who is Andrew’s cousin and probably his only friend. Matt seems to genuinely be interested in philosophy and bettering himself, but as part of that endeavor, he clearly sees himself as a superior being to those around him. Matt gives Andrew a ride to and from school every day. At school, Andrew is bullied mercilessly and his isolation is vividly captured. 

Steve (Jordan) is a charming, outgoing black boy who is running for class president. This actor is very good and his work in Friday Night Lights and Parenthood couldn’t be more different. At a party where all three are present, Matt finds Andrew and drags him to something he and Steve found. 

What they found is an unnatural hole in the ground, which the trio promptly explore. The camera follows them as they find a strange object, and then fries as a surge of some kind lays the boys low.

We come back a few days later when Andrew’s got a new camera. The boys are giddy with the discovery that they have telekinesis. As they practice with their powers, they get stronger and more adept. We also discover that the boys are connected in some way now; they can tell when the others are in trouble. 

The story that unfolds explores human nature, or teen human nature to be more accurate. The boys form a deep bond, play pranks, and find that, inevitably, with great power comes great… something. Secretiveness. Consequences. Even responsibility.

One of the boys begins to give in to his darker nature, causing tragic events to occur. For all of the boys, the powers they’ve been endowed with serve to highlight what is at their core, and each of them ends up at a point where they have to define who they are, because who they are is exaggerated significantly by their powers.

There is a scene in act two that had me feeling giddy and grinning like a complete idiot. The POV of the camera being, many times, from Andrew’s perspective draws the audience into his experience, and in this scene, this is good. Unless you suffer from vertigo. ‘

The final twenty minutes are wondrous good. Brace yourself.

Critique

As an exploration of what happens to a person when they are endowed with superhuman powers, Chronicle delivers wonderfully, but misses out a little. We see a lot of Matt and Andrew, but it would have been nice to see more of Steve. That said, the scene where Steve allows Andrew to essentially steal his thunder in front of the entire school is very nicely played and provides a revealing window into Steve’s fundamental kindness. 

The descent into his baser nature is pretty well motivated for the boy who does this, but it gets hard to sympathize with him when we don’t see him fighting the dark urges burgeoning inside him. There are a few scenes that are supposed to show us the boy’s goodness, and they work somewhat to help us empathize with him, but there still needs to be some attempts at restraint or he is simply a stereotypical, damaged supervillain.

Each of the boys has flaws, and that is important. The young actors do a very good job portraying youthful exuberance and curiosity, and the dynamic between the three is really wonderful. Watch for the scene after flying. It is night and a sleepover is happening. The director, Josh Trank, shows great maturity in allowing this scene to develop at a natural pace. 

Chronicle is at times an exhilarating ride, a warning tale, and a look at teen issues and family dynamics. The ‘found footage’ is done very well, with camera POVs switching from Andrew’s camera to another student’s, to surveillance cameras, and in one climactic scene from a lot of people’s phones. 

Highly recommended.

Content warnings: Lots of mid to high-level profanity. Plenty of teen drinking and some sexuality alluded to. Violence and some gruesome images.

Writing: 4           Acting: 4            Overall: 4

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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About jared

Jared Garrett works as a writer, the manager of a program development department in the corporate world, and an instructional designer. He is a family man with an adorable, fun, and way-too-smart wife, six silly kids, a new house with an overgrown back yard, seven fish, and a bunch of chickens. He has written fiction, user manuals, SEO copy, radio scripts and textbooks and has won first place in the Mayhew writing contest at BYU and received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. He lives at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and is currently seeking representation for his myriad completed novels.
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