Chronicle

19 Feb

Title: Chronicle
Year: 2012
Director: Josh Trank
Writer: Max Landis, based on a story by himself and Josh Trank
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking
Runtime: 84 min
IMDb Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 69

After the success of The Blair Witch Project over a decade ago, and especially after the Paranormal Activity films started killing it at the box office, studios have been fond of exploiting the found-footage gimmicky style of filmmaking, resulting in films that are novel and that can be made for a low budget and usually do well at the box office accordingly. Well, while there indeed have been some good found-footage films, which is why the technique has become popular now, it’s now gotten to the point in which one of these films comes out every month or so, and already this year we’ve had The Devil Inside which I gave a horrible D- to.

So I guess you could say I approached Chronicle, the new film using this gimmick, with a sense of caution. Well, I seriously needn’t have worried, since this film isn’t a found-footage movie for the sake of being one, but actually uses the style in order to amplify its vision, to complement a really well-written script, some really smart direction that gave this film a really great momentum by Josh Trank, a man who made his feature debut with this one and that’s been cited as the front-runner for the directing gig on a possible Fantastic Four reboot which, after seeing this one, is a decision I would seriously get behind. And the cast is also full of young performers, including Friday Night Light‘s Michael B. Jordan, who bring a lot of energy into their performances that make the film as compelling as it ultimately is.

This is just a really, really smart film that left me quite impressed if I’m to be honest. The plot follows around a trio of high school students that develop supernatural abilities that they must learn to control and use for the good and not fall into the darker trappings that come with such powers. And this film, which runs a slim eighty-four minutes, will hook you right in with the powerful performances and the potent way in which Mr. Trank tells this story, not to mention that while all these super power things are going on the film is still very much grounded in a human element that keeps it great. As soon as the film starts and you see Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan (the stand-out of the leads to me), filming himself in the mirror, an only child to an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who’s dying from cancer, you’ll be sucked into this film, there’s just something about it that’s so engaging.

Andrew likes to film stuff around, so that’s where the found-footage comes from, and so when his cousin Matt, played by Alex Russell, convinces him to come over to a party there he is with camera in hand. After some drinks are had and the guys feel super giddy and impulsive, Matt takes Andrew as well as Steve, played by the aforementioned Mr. Jordan, over to a hole that’s appeared in the ground, perfectly large in the middle of a field, and they of course decide that the smart thing to do is just going down the hole and see what awaits them there. Whatever happened down in the hole is what has now granted this trio with super powers, and from then on the movie just doesn’t let go for a second.

Now, what I loved is that even though we’ve seen this stuff before, the script by Max Landis (son of John Landis) which was based on a story by himself and Mr. Trank, makes this seem much fresher because it’s really smartly told which is precisely what makes this so entertaining. There’s the superhero origin story, the sci-fi elements, but all of that’s in the midst of a story about teenagers that feel very real. Andrew is of course a disturbed teen because of everything that goes on at home and Matt is his only friend, who in turn is just this incredibly talkative smart guy who throws around facts about Plato and Jung at ease, and then there’s Steve, who’s the handsome popular guy in school, the opposite of Andrew. It’s these guys that draw us in and the superhero stuff is just the icing on the cake, not the other way round.

How Mr. Trank decides to explore the discovery of their powers, the telekinesis skills they start developing after going down the hole, is tremendous, he brings a lightness to those scenes but he never shies away from the darker undertones that also haunt them. They don’t become superheroes or anything, there’s something dark about what they do with them; especially Andrew, who at first acts just as excited about his powers as Steve and Matt but who goes quite dark soon thereafter. And that’s awesome, you know, they act like a bunch of teenagers with powers because that’s what they are, that’s what makes this film feel so real, they don’t become super moral beings who rationalize the fact that they have supernatural abilities all of a sudden because no teenager would do that. And with an actor as Mr. DeHaan front and center it’s really awesome; he has a raw vulnerability to him that feels really awesome on screen.

I loved this film, it was by far the most pleasant surprise I’ve had yet in 2012. It’s a film that’s seriously tremendous fun, one that in a supernatural environment captures the essence of teenage better than most films, and one that with Andrew’s personal life finds a way to instill in this a deeper and darker current that the filmmakers know how to work with really well. And found-footage few times has been done as right as in Chronicle, at first we have Andrew just shooting, then he loses that camera and buys a better one, then he starts operating the camera with his telekinesis which means the opportunity for cooler shots, then we meet Casey, the object of lust in the film, and she has another camera which means an added viewpoint, Mr. Trank really knows how to get the most out of what he’s got.

As great as the film was, that’s what I took out of it the most actually; a real giddy kind of feeling about what the people involved in this film will be up to next. They’re all really young and relatively unexperienced, and the promise they’ve shown in Chronicle is unbelievable. Let’s hope Mr. Trank gets the Fantastic Four gig and gets the chance to work with bigger budgets and a bigger scope; Mr. Landis has written an action-comedy for Jonah Hill and Mark Wahlberg; Mr. Russell has a horror film coming up which doesn’t look that great but he’ll surely get offers by the dozens after this; Mr. Jordan has Jason Katims’ new TV pilot, and that’s the man that cast him in Friday Night Lights and Parenthood so I’m seriously psyched; and Mr. DeHaan, who you might remember as Wednesday’s patient from season 3 of In Treatment, has great stuff lined up, including Wettest County (with a slew of really awesome people including Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy) and Derek Cianfrance’s next project, The Place Beyond the Pines, alongside Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, which I couldn’t be more excited about. So yeah, good things are coming for these guys, and they’re much deserved.

Grade: A-

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