12A / 2012 / Action
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Ashley Hinshaw
Screenplay: Max Landis / Director: Josh Trank
Plot: After ducking out of a local house party, three teenagers stumble upon a hole in the ground of a nearby forest. It plays host to something unfathomable, but ends up transferring telekinetic powers onto the unsuspecting trio. Soon they find that as their powers become more potent, so to do the consequences of misusing them.
Given the absolute barrage of superhero movies to have graced out screens in the last 15 years (both mainstream and indie alike), it would be entirely understandable for you to think you’ve seen it all and that no super-powered stone has been left unturned. Enter Chronicle: a reassuring and welcome reminder that there is still life in the old dog yet!
It has long been ingrained into our pop-culture psyches that “with great power comes great responsibility”. So then, what would happen if you were to put said powers into the hands of the decidedly irresponsible? That’s the question posed by Max (son of John) Landis and Josh Trank; the respective writing and directing team behind this fresh genre spin, which begins with a succinct setup of the first of the three main characters.
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is a high-schooler with issues: his dad is a disgraced alcoholic and his mother is slowly dying in a bed upstairs. In an effort to distance himself from all the trouble that life is tossing his way, Andrew begins to film every aspect of his home, school and social life; much to the dislike of his cousin – and only real friend – Matt Garetty (Alex Russell). Whilst reluctantly attending a house party – on Matt’s insistence that he needs to get a life – Andrew is approached by another teenager, called Steve Montgomery, who wants to borrow his video camera to document what he and Matt have just found in a nearby forest. At this point, the three of them are suddenly bestowed with unexplained mental powers, and it is from here that the self-documenting style (in the same vein as Cloverfield) really takes off; charting the progression of this erstwhile unlikely trio, as they become friends and develop their skills.
One of Chronicle’s major strengths and what makes it instantly grab your attention, is its willingness to defy not just one, but several conventions of the genre; and doing so to such great effect! In addition to the ‘power & responsibility’ mantra that we have already mentioned, the friendship between the three leads does not come already fully formed as you may expect from a film such as this. Instead, you get to see its fractured formation as they bond purely over their new found abilities, and then it’s fragmentation as certain powers become abused. It’s these scenes of exploration that will keep you engaged the most, not least because each of the performances (by a relatively unknown cast) are raw and genuine, which means that you will want to stay with them on the journey to the end. The supporting players (which include Michael Kelly as Andrew’s dad and Ashley Hinshaw as the camera-wielding love interest of Matt’s) are also conveyed very well.
However, the POV style of the film is likely to divide some people; largely because it is at times inconsistent in its approach and can be quite jarring when there is either a change in operator, or when swapping to a security feed because there is no character available to hold a camera. The special effects also look a bit rough around the edges at times (flying sequences in particular), but perhaps one could argue that it is representative of the fact that the teenagers do not have a perfect hold on their abilities from the very beginning?
With these two elements combined (as well as a couple of plot inconsistencies), Chronicle often feels like a superhero B-movie rollercoaster that you’re not always sure you want to be on. But it’s the engaging performances which turn this into an A-star piece that is much more compelling and thoroughly more watchable than you expect. Not only that, but it definitely marks Josh Trank and Max Landis as talents to watch out for. Chronicle is not quite a Marvel, but it is pretty close.
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Kyle Buxton is an independent freelance film reviewer and blogger
Be sure to check out hid blog at: Reel Lighthouse – containing movie reviews, as well as other occasional film-related insights.