Chronicle is a sci-fi thriller about three teenage boys who come into contact with a strange, radioactive substance found in a well near their Seattle home, and weeks later discover that they’ve developed telekinesis-like abilities.
The story centers on angsty highschooler Andrew Detmer, who begins documenting his troubled life with video. He constantly gets picked on, his dad is an abusive drunk, and his mother lay dying of cancer. It doesn’t get much worse than Andrew’s life. And so he finds solace behind the camera, constantly filming at every opportunity (much to the annoyance of his friends and classmates).
The first part of the film is pretty much what you’d expect: through Andrew’s lens, we get a good introductory glimpse of his life, his friends, and his problems. About 12 minutes in, everything changes after he and his friends Matt and Steve stumble across the mysterious well. From there afterward the boys begin documenting their powers on video, testing the limits of their abilities with genuine awe at what they’re capable of, often in humorous ways (for instance playing pranks on unsuspecting people). With the newfound sense of belonging that Matt and Steve provide, Andrew’s personal life begins to transform as well, gaining more confidence and control in his social life even when things are falling apart at home.
And this is where Chronicle really gets interesting. Rather than focusing too much on the “Hey, look at my awesome super powers, isn’t this cool?” aspect of Andrew’s story, the film takes a much darker turn as we learn that Andrew’s intentions and motivations aren’t exactly pure. Tired of being bullied and his miserable home life, Andrew beings to recognize that having such power also means having the ability to punish those who would do him harm. And power in the hands of someone who is so obviously disturbed is a very dangerous thing.
The film’s unspoken question: if you suddenly developed super powers, what kind of person would you be?
Shockumentary horror films like Blair Witch and Cloverfield that favor the shaky, first-person handcam method to tell the story as if it were “real” footage usually come across as highly unbelievable because, honestly, what kind of fucking idiot would keep the camera rolling in terrifying life-or-death situations? (For what it’s worth, REC was one of the only films to get the ‘found footage’ formula right.) But In a non-horror film like Chronicle, the found footage style makes more sense to me. In the age of YouTube, I have no problems believing that a bunch of bored teenagers who suddenly develop super powers would want to film all the awesome things they can do.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by how well Chronicle works. Director Josh Trank, who is only 26 years old, by the way, is to be commended for putting his unique twist on the found footage trend with this directorial debut. Rather than mindlessly mimic the first-person shooting style like so many other films have done, he creates character situations that allow for different filming perspectives, better camera angles, and more interesting frames of reference.
For example, there’s a pretty insane action sequence toward the end of the film where we get to witness the events unfold through traffic and security cameras positioned all around downtown Seattle. In some other cases, however, it felt like the filming situations were far too contrived. But overall I think the direction was appropriate and varied enough so that you don’t feel like you’re trudging through loads of raw footage waiting for something cool to happen (fuck you, Paranormal Activity). Cool stuff definitely happens in this movie. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can promise there are some fantastic “WTF” moments that come out of nowhere, and awesome action sequences that must be seen to be believed.
I believe Chronicle is an amazing achievement in low-budget filmmaking. If you can put aside your expectations of what found footage films are typically like and just let yourself get immersed in the story, this movie can be a lot of fun.
7 out of 10 stars.